Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society

Prof. Pete Higgins

Research interests:

Theory, philosophy and practice of outdoor education / outdoor learning
Theory, philosophy and practice of environmental and sustainability education
International comparative approaches to outdoor, environmental and sustainability education
Interdisciplinary learning

Career history:

Peter’s early career was as an environmental scientist and freshwater biologist. He holds a BSc in Environmental Physical Sciences, an MSc in Freshwater Ecology and a PhD in the biology of Atlantic Salmon, and has conducted freshwater ecological work in England, Scotland, Honduras and Alaska, and was one of the ecologists responsible for the re-introduction of Atlantic Salmon into the River Thames.

Subsequently Peter retrained as a teacher of Outdoor Education and Biology and in addition to his formal teaching qualifications has gained a wide range of high-level UK and European governing body teaching awards notably in canoeing/kayaking, free-heel skiing and mountaineering, in all of which he retains a strong recreational interest. This training and qualifications were central to his work in several UK outdoor education centres and in New Zealand.

He was appointed to his current post in 1992 as a lecturer and subsequently promoted to Senior Lecturer and Professor with the award of a Personal Chair, the only one in the field in the UK and Europe. He was Dean of Students in the University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, for the period 2012-17.

He collaborated with colleagues across Scotland to establish the UN University Centre of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development in 2012 (, of which is currently Director. Since July 2017 he has been Director of the University’s Global Environment & Society Academy (

His significant contributions to teaching policy and practise in Higher Education have been recognised by the Higher Education Authority where he is a ‘Principal Fellow’.

He teaches on a range of Outdoor Education and Environmental Education programmes. Of these, and notable for its 40-year history is the Postgraduate Diploma and Masters degrees in Outdoor Education, Outdoor Environmental & Sustainability Education, and Learning for Sustainability which are unique in Europe and have few comparators anywhere in the world. It has a high national and international reputation, attracting students from many parts of the world. He teaches both academic and practical aspects of these and other sustainable development and education programmes in the university.

He has successfully supervised 16 PhD students in fields as diverse as residential outdoor provision, education in indigenous cultures, environmental and sustainability education in Africa and Scandinavia, skill acquisition in kayaking, decision-making by mountain guides, and sustainability in early years education. He currently supervises ten Doctoral students in an equally wide range of areas, including educational approaches to complex interdisciplinary issues, food production efficiencies, global food security etc.

He has recently been active in developing on-line approaches to ‘learning for sustainability’, including a University of Edinburgh Massive Open On-line Course (MOOC) in the field (UofE LfS MOOC), which in 2015 was followed by over 12,000 individuals in 166 countries; and a similar joint venture with Cornell University (USA) (Environmental Education: A transdisciplinary approach to addressing wicked problems). He is currently (jointly) developing an on-line course in Sustainability that will be available to most students in the University from 2016-17.

Active research projects:

Research associated with a British Council funded project on ‘Core Skills’ and Learning for Sustainability
NERC Doctoral student in global food security
Range of independent and joint academic writing associated with the above – and more general themes as outlined in the research interests

Recent publications:

1. Ross, H., Christie, B., Nicol, R. & Higgins, P. (2014). Space, place and sustainability and the role of outdoor education, Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 14:3, 191-197, DOI: 10.1080/14729679.2014.960684

2. Christie, B., Higgins, P. & Nicol, R. (2015). Curricular outdoor learning in Scotland: from practice to policy. . In: C. Henderson, B. Humbersone & H. Prince, (Eds.), Routledge International Handbook of Outdoor Recreation. pp. 113-120. London: Routledge.

3. Christie, B., Beames, S., Higgins, P. (2016). Culture, context and critical thinking: Scottish secondary school teachers’ and pupils’ experiences of outdoor learning. British Educational Research Journal. 42 (3), 417-437.

4. Hildmann, J. & Higgins, P. (2016). Emotional intelligence, personality and leadership in outdoor adventure education facilitators: a three dimensional model. In D. Mitten (Ed.) Proceedings of Symposium on Experiential Education Research, pp. 28-31.

5. Porter, S., Reay, D, Higgins, P. & Bomberg, E. (2016). A half-century of production-phase greenhouse gas emissions from food loss & waste in the global food supply chain. Science of the total environment. 571, p. 721-729.

Two book chapters and one article in press on Learning for Sustainability and related issues.

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