School of Engineering and IT

Renewing the Sustainable Energy Curriculum – Providing Internationally Relevant Skills for a Carbon Constrained Economy.

The Challenge

In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid significant climate change, Australia and the international community are increasingly moving towards a low carbon (carbon constrained) economy. This transition to a low carbon economy requires new skills and knowledge.

A key component of developing a low carbon economy is the use of more sustainable energy. Sustainable energy is the provision of energy that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable energy sources include all renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectricity, solar energy, wind energy, wave power, geothermal energy, bioenergy, and tidal power, as well as more efficient and sustainable use of existing conventional (fossil fuel based) energy sources in the transition period[1].

During the 1990’s and early 2000’s a number of Australia’s Universities developed and now run specialist sustainable energy courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Other Universities have developed sustainable energy majors or minors in existing conventional degrees such as Engineering. These programs/courses were developed individually based on the technology and policy environment and an understanding (based on an interaction with industry) of the skills required at the time. A number of studies related to sustainable energy training and skills development have recently been undertaken in order to determine the current and future skills needs in the areas of renewable energy (Clean Energy Council, 2009a[2]) and energy efficiency (GHD, 2010[3]). They have identified a number of skills and knowledge gaps that need to be addressed in the training of Australian sustainable energy graduates as well as methods of course delivery.

There has never been any published curriculum frameworks or educational research specifically looking into key questions of how best to provide the required knowledge, skills and attributes required by sustainable energy graduates, such as:

  • Inter/multi-disciplinary training vs specialist courses (e.g. engineering, policy etc) and the appropriate level to teach different skills (e.g. undergraduate versus postgraduate);
  • Specialist courses and programs versus embedding skills and knowledge into existing discipline training (e.g. specialised Masters course versus embedding in existing MEng);
  • Face-to-face versus online and flexible delivery;
  • The need for, and extent of, work integrated learning and industry experience based education;

After 15 or more years of offering sustainable energy courses at tertiary level there was a need to assess and where necessary revise the existing courses and qualifications to ensure they are providing the skills and knowledge required by employers in a time of different technology and a changed (and rapidly changing) policy environment.

Project Aims

This project aimed to scope and develop sustainable energy curriculum frameworks for Australian Higher Education Institutions that meet the needs of Australian and International student graduates and employers, both now and into the near future. The curriculum frameworks developed seek to enable the assessment of existing curricula, course content and delivery methods in Australian Universities and provide guidance on how they can be made more relevant to students’ and employers’ skills and knowledge needs. They also seek to provide guidance in the development of new sustainable energy courses and programs in this important and growing area.

Funded by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching, this 2 1/2-year project is an initiative of Murdoch University undertaken in conjunction with the University of New South Wales, the Australian National University, the University of South Australian and the Queensland University of Technology.

Project Approach

The approach taken to develop the curriculum frameworks and answer the key questions regarding delivery (described in detail in the Curriculum Frameworks Guide) was can be summarised as follows:

  1. Generation of a catalogue of sustainable energy skills, knowledge and generic attributes from related reports and existing sustainable energy curricula, programs and courses in order to determine the skills and knowledge required and gaps already identified.
  2. Construction of a conceptual framework for developing the curriculum frameworks including the development of;
    • Sustainable energy knowledge taxonomies;
    • Sustainable energy capability (knowledge and skills) cloths; and
    • Generic attributes and capabilities (knowledge and skills) including prerequisites;
  3. Separate online surveys that were completed by graduates and employers (including employer representative bodies) to determine their views of the sustainable energy related skills and knowledge areas and generic attributes required by professionals in this field and how to most effectively deliver them.
  4. Email surveys and interviewed with key staff from international institutions that have highly regarded sustainable energy programs to learn from their curriculum approach, and to study the requirements in regard to internationalisation of the content.
  5. Development of draft curriculum, frameworks and trialling against the partner University programs and internal and external peer review;
  6. Production of a final Curriculum Frameworks Guide document and Final Project Reports which have been distributed to all relevant stakeholders.

Project Outcomes

The project has sought to provide an understanding of the skills, knowledge and generic attributes required by sustainable energy graduates, and how best to deliver sustainable energy education at tertiary level. It also sought to deliver a consistent, nationally applicable and internationally relevant set of curriculum frameworks for training sustainable energy graduates in Australian Universities.

Another outcome sought by the project was a better engagement between employers and Universities regarding the most appropriate skills and knowledge training for the sustainable energy industry.

It is expected that improved, more relevant, sustainable energy courses and programs will be delivered at Australian tertiary institutions as a result of the comparison of existing courses and programs against the curriculum frameworks and delivery guidelines resulting from the project.

It is expected that this in turn will lead to improved outcomes related to:

  • Employability and ability of tertiary trained sustainable energy graduates;
  • Enhanced student-centred, employment-focussed training; and
  • A greater number of appropriated skilled sustainable energy professionals making Australia better able to respond to the change to a low carbon economy.

Support Acknowledgement

Support for this project activity has been provided by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching. The views expressed in this project publication/activity do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.


[1] Based on the definition in Wikipedia.

[2] Clean Energy Council (2009), “Australian Renewable Energy Training and Workforce Strategy for 2020 - Renewable Energy Training in Australia 2009”.

[3] GHD (2010). “Report for Long Term Strategy for the Development of Energy Efficiency Assessment Skills – Training Needs Analysis Report”, report prepared for the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, January 2010.

Project Partners

Please note clicking on these links will open in a new window.
Australian National University

Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, Australia

UNSW Australia

University of South Australia

Murdoch University