‘Eco-grief’ classes offered at Russell Group university

University of Exeter campus - Jay Williams
University of Exeter campus - Jay Williams

Students are to be offered classes in “ecological grief” at a leading Russell Group university, The Telegraph can reveal.

The University of Exeter is rolling out a new workshop that is “providing support to students suffering from climate anxiety and ecological grief”.

The class, called “transformative education for sustainable development”, is the first of its type at Britain’s group of 24 top-flight, research-intensive universities.

But insiders have accused bosses of making students’ mental health worse with “catastrophisation”.

The Telegraph has seen an email sent by Tim Quine, Exeter’s deputy vice-chancellor for education, to up to 1,000 staff in the faculty of humanities, arts and social sciences, the largest of three faculties at the Devon university, advertising the class on Jun 16 which is being run in-person and online.

Mr Quine “encouraged” staff to sign up to the voluntary workshop which would also discuss “racial and social justice” form ideas to roll out “sustainability and transformative education generally” across the wider curriculum.

A university spokesman told The Telegraph it would involve “essentially a discussion and conversation about climate anxiety and ecological grief which is real for some people, including some scientists working on loss of nature, coral reefs and people’s homes, for example”.

“Our focus is very much on solutions and action, and this is an ‘education incubator’ project, which looks at innovative ways for collaboration between students and staff,” the spokesman added.

An “introductory workshop” on the topic also took place in March.

University technocrats

But it has come under fire from some inside the university.  One Exeter academic told The Telegraph: “University technocrats now need to step back from directing the nature of debates on campus and reinforcing the view that students are endlessly vulnerable.

“Catastrophisation is not good for mental health and does not build the kinds of adult resilience our graduates need and that employers expect. Telling students the sky is falling is partially to blame for the mental health epidemic now plaguing British campuses.”

Jack Barwell, 20, a politics student and president of the speak easy society at Exeter, said: “Ecological grief classes are just the latest example of university culture prioritising students’ welfare in ways that damage speech.

“I want to see everyone’s views welcomed and that’s why I believe open debate is the only way to settle these issues.”

A handful of other universities have provided classes in “eco-anxiety” or “climate anxiety”, including Derby and East Anglia, but “eco grief” is a new concept amid fears of worsening wellbeing on some campuses.

The University of Exeter added in a statement: “This is an entirely voluntary workshop and a collaboration between students and staff to tackle the global climate and ecological crisis which is science fact.

“We are proud of our leadership on climate science and our focus on solutions, including our recent ranking as the number one higher education institution in Europe for climate action based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“Discussion, collaboration and high-quality research on the biggest challenges of our time is all part of the education offer at the University of Exeter.”