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Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard

Danish Higher Education institutions' strategies of Education for Sustainable Development

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Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) play a pivotal role in moving towards sustainable development (SD). Since the Brundtland report, different strategies and practices have emerged in order to include sustainability perspectives in Higher Education (HE) core activities (Wals and Jickling 2002, Rieckmann 2017, UNESCO 2017). The UN Sustainable Development Goals have only accelerated this process with explicit emphasis on the role of HE and a mounting political pressure to ensure the role of HEIs towards 2030 (Rieckmann 2017, Leicht, Heiss et al. 2018). Education for sustainable Development (ESD) research has also emphasized the importance of a deep transformation of HEIs and their culture in a holistic manner rather than more superficial approaches of adding a limited range of ESD oriented courses to an otherwise conserved curriculum (Mulà 2017, Sinakou, Boeve-de Pauw et al. 2019).

However, addressing sustainable development in a holistic and committed manner presents paradoxes and dilemmas to the HEIs. On the one hand, the profound impacts of sustainability and climate change resist easy and seamless managerial implementation into institutions that are to a growing degree output focused; on the other hand SD and climate change issues are becoming more important among students, teachers, researchers, and management alike (Mulà 2017) for which e.g. Greta Thunberg has been considered a catalyst and showcase of (Giesenbauer and Müller-Christ 2020).
Research focus
Our contribution will present a mapping of the entire Danish HE institutional landscape with respect to ESD/SD approach.
Our research questions are:
-How can strategic ESD/SD address of Danish HEIs be comparatively analyzed, mapped, and understood?
-How do the different contextual conditions of universities and university colleges in Denmark, respectively, entail different implications for ESD/SD strategies of Danish HEIs?
-And to what extent are implementation of ESD/SD policy implemented, operationalized and practiced at the HEIs according to their publicly available corporate communication?
The paper will thus provide the starting point for comparatively evaluating potentials for sustainable, structural change through HEIs.
Our methodical approach is based on a stepwise empirical data collection procedure, where we examine the web presence of eight Danish universities and six university colleges to identify their institutional strategies and other publicly available institutional policy documents. We scan all of these documents for referral to sustainability, sustainable development, and sustainable development goals (in English and Danish).
By means of document studies, a comparative analysis of how the institutions address sustainability in their HE activity at a strategic, policy level is undertaken as well as a mapping of institutional differences and traces of implementation of operationalized institutional change.
Preliminary findings
Tentative findings indicate that ambitions to implement sustainability in educations at Danish HEIs are abundant (Rehling 2020, Lysgaard, Jónsson et al. 2021). The same holds for the number and variety of concrete examples of ESD-oriented practice. Whereas, some institutions choose a top-down strategy, others tend to valuate bottom-up initiatives that nurture from a sense of necessity or passion of individual educators. However, a consistent implementation approach in coherence with strategy is rarely if at all communicated.
Institutional solutions to assess and evaluate ESD practice are also sparse. Evaluating and documenting the course of the many different initiatives undertaken would provide a good source for qualifying future initiatives to advance ESD. However, the reflection on the impact of these initiatives holds a large potential for systematic attention, and we find hardly any empirical data-collection serving to knowledge-base further ESD strategy and decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventFutures of Education - Learning to become 2021 - VIA University College, Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 22 Apr 202123 Apr 2021


ConferenceFutures of Education - Learning to become 2021
LocationVIA University College
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