Transforming Higher Education for Sustainable Development

At the Rio+20 conference the cooperation between science and policy was highlighted. A full list of recommendations was given in the “The Future We Want” outcome document, expressing the need for strengthening the collaboration between science and policy as well as the necessity of fostering international research collaboration so as to support sustainable development of society in the near future (paras. 48, 85(k), 88(d), United Nations General Assembly, 2012). Serving the same purpose, yet via different means the call for education for sustainable development was highlighted. Capacity building and development of sustainability competences are crucial for the present and future generations in terms of their acting and interacting in a sustainable manner (paras. 62, 229-235, United Nations General Assembly, 2012).

Through their education, research, and operations roles, higher education institutions (HEIs) create a societal impact that shows a strong potential to act as leverage point for sustainable development locally and globally (Sedlacek, 2011). They can be seen as essential drivers of education for sustainable development (ESD) and constitute fundamental vehicles to explore, test, develop and communicate conditions for transformative change (Rammel et al. 2015). Yet, in order to be truly transformative, higher education needs to transform itself (Fadeeva et al., 2014a; Rio+20 Treaty on Higher Education, 2015). Therefore, international as well as institutional stakeholders are demanded to rethink HEI and support policies that foster a substantial change in higher education for sustainable development.

Read the full brief below and share your comments.

2 thoughts on “Transforming Higher Education for Sustainable Development

  1. Pingback: "Transforming Higher Education for Sustainable Development" – Policy Brief zum Beitrag der Wissenschaft zu den SDGs | NaWis – Nachhaltige Wissenschaft

  2. pschilde

    Tertiary education plays a vital and undeniable part in our sustainable development. Through its core roles as a place for education of young professionals and civilians, for research and innovation and for societal services, tertiary education has a strong potential to act as a catalyst. The Flemish government recognizes this potential. Firstly, by giving education for sustainable development (ESD) an important place in the regional strategy for sustainable development. Secondly, by supporting initiatives for sustainable development of higher education institutions (HEI) through Ecocampus, a project of the Ministry of Environment, Nature and Energy.

    This policy brief brings together important scientific work on what sustainable higher education should look like and what is needed for this transformation. It does so in a clear and concise way and, as such, provides a useful and scientifically sound guideline for the continuation of Ecocampus. The brief affirms the decision to launch Ecocampus by stating that a national policy framework is crucial, but needs to be accompanied by serious support through professional training programs.

    In addition, the brief states how support through professional training needs to be focused on transdisciplinary approaches of sustainable development education and research. This is where a true transformation of tertiary education is needed. Towards HEI as living labs where students and researchers can experiment with alternatives for our dominant societal regime that is under stress. In Flanders, the disciplinary organization structure is still an important barrier.

    To create such living labs, you need a whole institution approach, as the brief correctly states, to make sustainability part of a HEI’s culture and day-to-day operations. By providing the LiFE-framework, created by EAUC, to support institution-wide reflection on sustainability, Ecocampus supports this approach. You also need authentic sustainability challenges that have a local impact with which students, teachers and researchers can experiment. Ecocampus will pay attention to this recommendation by focusing on experiments with wicked problems.

    The importance of policy briefs like this one for the continuation and guiding of government support has to be stressed. Therefore, we are a requesting party for briefs that give more in-depth info on the stated policy conclusions.

    Peter Schildermans
    Employee Sustainable Higher Education
    Flemish Ministry of Environment, Nature and Energy


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