Leading environmental schools for Asian students
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Leading environmental schools for Asian students

Introduction by Phil Dickie, International Editor at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and award-winning investigative journalist

HUMAN demand on natural resources has doubled since 1966 and we now consume at a rate 50% higher than the planet can sustain. Looking at this a slightly different way, it takes the Earth 18 months to generate the resources we use in a single year.

If we continue to push the Earth beyond its limits, by 2030 we’ll need the equivalent of two planets’ productive capacity to meet our annual demands.

Every week brings new stories about the impact we’re having on the planet. Hundreds of millions are now facing water scarcity, heat waves are increasingly common and our forests are disappearing at an alarming rate, with an area almost the size of England and Wales disappearing every year (13 million hectares).

The economic implications of these changes are often overlooked. Independent analysis (TEEB) suggests the cost of business as usual is stripping our economies of trillions of dollars a year. Deforestation alone is costing an estimated $4.5 trillion a year, destruction of coral reefs $192 billion, and the loss of bees $2-8 billion.


Pic: AP.

Inspiring the future
Sustainability education and its application have a key role to play in reversing the trends of environmental degradation. Many universities around the world are rising to meet this challenge by creating dynamic programs that integrate sustainability into all aspects of their curriculum, from business and management to on-the-ground efforts in disaster relief.

What many post secondary institutions have recognized is the need to respond to the sustainability challenge by educating the world’s future leaders to drive change.

Asia is waking up to this need. Universities are keen to offer environmental programs and are attracting students from across the world. Asian universities W. SyCip Graduate School of Business at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in the Philippines and South Korea’s Seoul School of Integrated Sciences and Technologies (aSSIST) have been recognized by the Aspen Institute in their rankings of top green MBAsBeyond Grey Pinstripes – as have Australia’s Griffith Business School and University of South Australia IGSB.

Other universities that run popular programs to address environmental problems include Doshisha University’s Business School in Kyoto, Japan, which has introduced a green MBA in the spirit of the Kyoto Protocol. The University of Tokyo has also been consistent in its teaching and research in the field, with renowned programs in Sustainability Science.

Many universities and their students are already putting their knowledge to the test on the ground. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami that rocked northern Japan in March 2011, volunteers from Temple University Japan were on location to help deal with the aftermath of the quake, including the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.


Pic: Charles Darwin University.

The incident also fuelled research in disaster management in universities in the Tohoku region. These include Tohoku University, which is planning to employ tsunami experts; Fukushima University, which has set up a research centre to study nuclear disaster prevention; and the Hachinohe Institute of Technology, which has founded a research centre on technology and social systems for disaster preparedness. The University of Tokyo is also active in this field and is conducting field studies in the area.

Similarly, Guru Govind Singh University in India worked closely with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies during the emergency in Leh in 2010. Such involvement during environmental crises is becoming a prerogative of several universities across the globe. These efforts – whether physical or in the form of research – are an important step towards understanding, combating and overcoming such environmental disasters.

As universities are starting to invest more on environmental awareness and sustainability programs, the teaching methods applied and the research conducted within these programs become of vital importance – often discovering key findings to address and resolve today’s environmental issues.

Below is AsianCorrespondent.com’s list of 25 of the world’s leading environment schools for Asian students:

Charles Darwin University (CDU) was officially founded in 2003, although the seeds of its birth go all the way back to the 1950s. Receiving a five-star rating from the Good Universities Guide, it is easy to see that this is a university that can produce students ready to compete on the global stage. In particular, CDU is world-renowned for its research expertise in environmental studies of tropical and desert regions within Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. The university also offers a wide range of courses in other disciplines, such as law, medicine, science and economics. As Australia’s gateway to Southeast Asia, Darwin-based Charles Darwin University has always had a global outlook and welcomes students from all walks of life within its walls. Read the full profile…


Pic: Griffith University.

Three decades ago Griffith University set up Australia’s first environmental studies program. Since then, the environment has been catapulted from a fringe issue to the top of political and industry agendas around the world and, fittingly, Griffith University has grown into a leading environment educator not just in Australia, but in the world. It has the largest group of environmental professionals in any university in Australia, and holds its own in a global setting too. Griffith’s five campuses are dotted along the coast of southern Queensland, which is an environmentalist’s dream in terms of flora, fauna and climate. From the Great Barrier Reef to the rainforests of the Cape York Peninsula, this is Mother Nature at her finest. Read the full profile…

The University of Tasmania (UTAS) was founded by an Act of the Tasmanian Parliament in 1890, and today stands as one of the oldest universities in Australia. UTAS is committed to the creation, preservation, communication and application of knowledge, along with achieving excellence in all aspects of education – teaching, research and scholarly activities. Research at UTAS is vital to its identity and it remains one of the top 10 research universities in Australia. The university has a very strong environmental focus and is particularly proud of providing a holistic learning environment for students. With a diverse range of degree options to choose from, students at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) develop a strong understanding of their surrounding environment through extensive field-based work. They examine whole organism biology and ecology, working with Tasmania’s unique flora and fauna amongst truly wild regions of the planet.  Read the full profile…


Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology is home to two campuses, 17 departments, 2,500 employees, 200 research groups and 11,000 students. With a large number of these students drawn from countries around the world, Chalmers is reputed for its extensive research and education efforts in the fields of environment and sustainable development. Situated in Gothenburg, the university focuses on research and education in several facets of environmental science and is a driving force behind discoveries in this area of expertise. Chalmers works towards a sustainable future with a vision that hopes to inspire others to adopt a more open approach to find technical solutions. The academic environment at the university is born out of a significant relationship with industry and society in an effort to internationalize education for higher standards of teaching and research. Read the full profile…



Pic: University of Tasmania.


Harvard University’s environmental studies courses offer a world of opportunity and discovery for its students. Ranging from Environmental Politics to Sustainable Buildings – Design and Construction, the programs available are designed to equip each student with the understanding, knowledge and compassion towards finding answers towards contemporary environmental problems. The Harvard Extension School prides itself on being able to deliver in-depth education for its students while catering to an open and comprehensive academic curriculum. The Harvard University Centre for the Environment is internationally recognised as bringing path-breaking research to a global audience on matters of environment and sustainability. With a mission to harness the intellectual power at Harvard to understand and shape our environmental future, this institute is a leader in the field of research and education in environmental studies.

California’s UC Berkeley consistently places near the top in world rankings from sources such as US News & World Report, Times Higher Education and the United States National Research Council. Berkeley’s graduate programs are among the most desired and recognised internationally and often rank in the top 10 in their fields. One such field of study at UC Berkeley is environment and the university offers a range of choices. Departments include Environmental Design, Environmental Economics and Policy, Environmental Health Sciences, and Environmental Sciences, among others. The Berkeley Institute of the Environment provides pioneering research in the field and comprises centres devoted to atmospheric sciences, green chemistry, water, hydro watch and sustainable communities. This university acts as a stepping-stone to many successful careers in this field.

The University of Cambridge is the second oldest university in the United Kingdom and also the English-speaking world.  It ranks as one of the top universities in the world and featured sixth in the 2010-2011 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. In a more recent academic list compiled by the Guardian newspaper, the University of Cambridge was ranked first. There is consistent focus on environmental initiatives at this institute and the Cambridge Environment Initiatives network demonstrates the diverse scope in the field being pursued by the university. The Initiative spans across all schools at the university and includes research in built environment, climate change, conservation, energy, natural hazards and waste, among others.

This private research university in Massachusetts hosts five schools and one college and is internationally recognised for its standards of education and research. With a mission to advance knowledge and education, MIT and its 34 academic departments bring together more than 10,000 students and around 1,000 faculty members.  The university has been recognised in the top 5 in the 2011 QS World University Rankings in the field of natural sciences for its contribution towards teaching and research methods in environmental sciences. MIT has labs and departments working towards furthering research and education in environment and energy. MIT’s Environmental Research Council brings together academics from several departments including the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Australia’s ANU was established by an act of parliament in 1946 and has since shot to international recognition for its high standards of education and research, along with innovative teaching methods. It constantly maintains itself as a leading Australian university in world rankings and is a member of prestigious university alliances such as the Group of Eight and the International Alliance of Research Universities.  ANU has been recognised for its consistent education and research in environment sciences and offers a variety of programs such as Environment Management and Development, Climate Change, and Diplomatic Studies. Majors include Climate Science and Policy, Forest Science, and Human Ecology, and there several other majors and courses to choose from.


Pic: Australian National University.

Established in 1908, Canada’s University of British Columbia (UBC) is a leading research university home to almost 55,000 students from across the world. UBC ranks in the top three universities in Canada and runs several research initiatives that work towards maintaining the quality of training at the institute. Its undergraduate programs in earth and environment sciences, environmental chemistry, environmental design, environmental engineering, environmental sciences, food and environment, environment and sustainability, and soils and environment are reputed for contributing in an integral fashion to the advancement of environmental studies. In graduate studies, its College for Interdisciplinary Studies hosts the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) and the School of Environmental Health. Its Centre for Health and Environment Research has been credited for key findings to address environmental problems today.

University of Toronto is a top-ranked university in Canada. It boasts of a notable alumna that includes 10 Nobel laureates, 14 justices of the Supreme Court and four prime ministers of the country. It is well known for its research and teaching faculties, one of the strongest in North America. With over 75,000 students across three campuses, an education at U of T can successfully launch a career in any discipline. This strong foundation of academics and ethics is also applied to environmental studies. U of T is a vital peg in the field of environmental sciences, earning its efforts an 11th rank in the 2011 QS World University Rankings.

Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) gives other universities stiff competition. Ranked fourth in the recent Times Higher Education Europe list, ETH Zurich boasts of an excellent academic curriculum and is widely reputed as Europe’s answer to America’s MIT. ETH Zurich’s distinguished alumni have gone on to win Nobel Prizes in the past, including possibly the institute’s most famous alumna, Albert Einstein. ETH Zurich invests intensive resources and energy into developing innovative solutions to address today’s global energy system and environment problems. The institute is also part of the Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community (Climate-KIC) – an international network of academic and private partners. This is just one of the efforts and there are several other centres that operate out of the university and conduct path-breaking research in this particular field.

Singapore’s NUS is the country’s oldest university and is globally known as one of Asia’s most prestigious academic institutes, drawing students from across the world. Recognised for its efforts in research and teaching techniques towards protecting the environment, NUS also has a committed Office of Environmental Sustainability with a mission to achieve a complete shift to environmental sustainability in all aspects of campus life. This is realised by integrating sustainability into operations, planning, education, research, construction and public service. NUS offers programs for undergraduate and postgraduate students in the field of environmental studies. Further, research centres within the university, such as the NUS Environmental Research Initiative (NERI), consistently break new ground in their findings.

Formerly Japan’s Imperial University and the second-oldest university in the country, Kyoto University has an international reputation for liberal traditions and academic freedom. The university is a leading source of research in Asia and features environmental concerns as one its areas of interest. It hosts centres such as the Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere and the Disaster Prevention Research Institute. The Graduate School of Energy Science at the university has departments specialising in Socio-Environmental Energy Science, Fundamental Energy Science and Energy Conservation Science, among others. Kyoto University has three campuses in a city rich with culture and diversity.


Pic: Chalmers University of Technology.

The University of Tokyo (Todai) is one of Japan’s most prestigious universities and ranks among Asia’s premier research varsities. Founded in 1877 by the Meiji government, the University of Tokyo has a rich tradition rooted in government schools of medicine and Western learning. Spread out over three campuses at Hongo, Komaba, and Kashiwa, the university is a part of several top-notch university tie-ups such as the International Alliance of Research Universities and the Association of Pacific Rim Universities. Todai is alma mater to no less than 15 Japanese Prime Ministers. The university is acknowledged for its environmental efforts and runs several courses and research through its Department of Ocean Technology, Policy, and Environment.

The Imperial College London is a leading university in the United Kingdom and is recognised for its education and research in the fields of science, technology and medicine. With nearly 15,000 full-time students, it consistently makes the top 10 in the world rankings. Its Centre for Environmental Policy has been lauded for its efforts in the field, providing a unique interface between science and technology and working towards addressing environment and development issues. The Centre works towards resolving concerns in energy, pollution, conservation of natural resources, food and health security, and poverty reduction. Academically, programs are offered in Environmental Technology while research is conducted in four key areas of Environmental Security and Governance, Environmental Quality, Sustainable Transitions and Energy Policy.

The university of Hong Kong, or HKU as it is popularly known, is the oldest tertiary institution in Hong Kong. This world-class comprehensive research university was ranked in the top 25 according to both QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education University World Ranking, and continues to hold the title of leading institute in the Asian University Rankings of 2010. As environmental issues are increasingly becoming the focus of public concern, HKU researchers are exploring new ways of producing, storing, using, and integrating renewable energy sources. Looking at ways to reduce environmental damage is part of this research and the university offers groundbreaking education in Environmental Science and Environmental Management through its Faculty of Science.

Sweden’s Lund University is one of Europe’s most prestigious universities and also one of Scandinavia’s largest academic institutions, consistently featuring among the world’s top 100 universities. The second-oldest Swedish university belongs to the League of European Research Universities and also the global network, Universitas 21. The university has a keen focus on environmental research and education, offering programs in Environmental Science, Environmental Management and Sustainable Development. Its postgraduate Centre for Environmental and Climate Research and its International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics are recognised for innovative teaching and research methods and continue to undertake groundbreaking research.

Korea’s Seoul National University ranks in the top 10 Asian universities and top 50 globally according to the 2010 QS World University Rankings. With a tradition of excellence and pioneering knowledge, SNU is committed to preparing students for the competitive job market that awaits them. The School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at SNU is a premier academic and research centre in Asia, offering high-quality findings to address environmental concerns. The Graduate School of Environmental Studies offers programs tailored to help its students achieve a green sustainable environment.


Pic: Seoul National University.

Aarhus University (AU) is a leading Danish university and consistently ranks in the top 100 in university listings. The university itself claims to bring together “in-depth expertise with interdisciplinary collaboration” in a close interplay “with the world at large”. With almost 40,000 students and 10,000 staff, AU is a lavish spread of scientific innovation, research and learning. The university is looking to double its PhD intake which, at last count, stood at 2,000. It is also looking to expand its intake of international students, which currently number 4,000. The university offers taught programs in Agriculture, Food and Environment, Agro-Environmental Management, and hosts PhD programs at the National Environmental Research Institute (NERI).

Thailand’s oldest and most prestigious university boasts of 19 faculties and institutes committed to delivering high quality education and producing cutting-edge research across a variety of disciplines. Located in downtown Bangkok, the university is recognised as a leading educational institute in Asia. There is special emphasis on environmental programs with degrees granted in subjects such as Environmental Science, Environmental Management, and Environment, Development and Sustainability. The university’s Aquatic Resources Research Institute and Environmental Research Institute works endlessly towards problems in our environment today.

Fudan University in Shanghai is not just one of the oldest but also one of the most selective universities in China and a member of the elite C9 League. 2009 saw the university rank third overall across mainland China according to the THE-QS World University Rankings. It has 28 schools and departments with 70 undergraduate disciplines; the university also confers postgraduate degrees in 229 disciplines. Fudan University boasts of 29 research stations that offer postdoctoral fellowships. The Department of Environmental Science and Engineering is utilising the increasing attention towards environmental science as a discipline by successfully harnessing the teaching and research reputation of this university.

Highest-ranked in New Zealand, the University of Auckland is the country’s largest university and ranked in the top 100 universities in the world. The university has a strong international focus – home to more than 4,000 students from across 90 countries. It is also a member of Universitas 21. The University of Auckland is recognised as New Zealand’s pre-eminent research-based institute and also boasts of the largest graduate school in the country. Environmental science programs are offered with a focus to the study of natural and managed environments with an emphasis on the scientific approach to problem solving in this discipline.

This French university, located in the city of Grenoble, focuses on the fields of science, technology and health. According to the 2009 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), the university was ranked sixth best in France. It hosts almost 20,000 students undertaking undergraduate programs and has a number of research clusters dedicated towards the furthering of environmental science.

UC Davis is the largest within the University of California system and is a leading university according to United States National Research Council, ranking third on its list of top 10 public universities in the country. The university is environmentally focussed as demonstrated by its Sustainable 2nd Century unit, which celebrates UC Davis’ constant commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability. Its research teams work ceaselessly to create impacts that affect the world. These research teams are leaders in plug-in hybrid electric vehicle research and real world demonstrations of new lighting technology. There are several programs offered in the discipline including Environmental Design and Environmental Toxicology.