30 SES 13 A, Higher Education for Sustainability: Session 2
Certainly enforced through the UNESCO’s Global Action Programme on education for sustainable development and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, many initiatives have been rolled out in the whole educational sector in order to promote sustainable development (SD) within and through its institutions. Correspondingly, higher education institutions (HEIs) all over the world have recognized SD to be a key challenge for the 21st century, not only in the global perspective, but also concerning the HEIs’ very own operations, motives and processes.
While the importance of SD and the HEIs’ role in it are being increasingly recognized, empirically founded information on the governance structures as well as processes of SD at HEIs is still scarce (Spira et al., 2013; Baker-Shelley et al., 2017). This can be explained, among other factors, by the highly context-dependent conditions under which HEIs act (Bauer et al., 2018; Rinaldi et al., 2017), making it difficult to produce generalizable insights into their SD-related governance. Another difficulty in putting forward SD in HEIs arises from the fact that definitions of the term, in the context of HEIs, remain as rhetorically malleable and fluid as the ones in public and political discourses (Weisser 2017). In fact, even in academic research, a comprehensive understanding of SD has long been lacking (Wu et al. 2016). As a result, the practice of SD in HEIs has been diverse (e.g. Lozano et al. 2015).
Against this backdrop, recent attempts to provide a classification of SD practices in HEIs are worth noting. Building on Leal Filho’s distinction of individual (persons), sectoral (faculties) and institutional (whole HEI) approaches (Leal Filho 2015: 5-6), Rath and Schmidt (2017) propose four degrees of SD institutionalization in HEIs. These include 1. sectoral single activities for sustainability (not interconnected), 2. a governance concept of sustainability, 3. a whole institution approach for implementing sustainability, and 4. a sustainability-related institutional profile. These four degrees put particular emphasis, also found in other literature, on the need to create a joint commitment across HEI staff to SD-related goals, structures and processes, covering teaching as well as research and operations (cf. Mader et al. 2013). In this perspective, HEIs need to overcome instrumental governance, as it leads to “silo thinking”, and instead make an effort for holistic governance (Moon et al. 2018).
At the same time, Rath and Schmidt (2017) acknowledge that their typology serves “as a rough categorization pattern only” (ibid: 466) and that additional factors should be taken into account in order to adequately specify SD-related activities in HEIs (ibid: 467-468). In particular, it can be argued, SD puts into question the traditional role of HEIs. While the focus of HEIs has long been on teaching and research as well as, more recently, on technology transfer, SD requires a revised understanding of HEIs as actors that, together with a range of partners, aim to create societal change (Trencher et al. 2014). SD in HEIs, therefore, needs organizational transformation within those institutions (Adams et al. 2018). As Mader et al. (2013: 269) argue, a whole institution approach requires “transformative environments and processes within higher education institutions, organisational learning practices, transdisciplinary approaches as well as effective leadership for sustainability”.
Expanding on this notion, this paper explores the question, “What is the role of the organizational culture on an HEI’s way towards SD?”. It presents research from eleven very different German HEIs and their typical pathways towards SD. The focus thereby lies on the building of such transformative environments and how it is promoted or obstructed through socio-cultural orientations pursued by each HEI.
The study this paper is based on contains 61 face-to-face interviews with different actors from eleven German HEIs that are all involved in the joint research project HOCHN. The selection of the interview partners followed a selective sampling. In order to gain an in-depth understanding and to incorporate different views and perspectives on sustainability governance, the stakeholders from the following groups were interviewed: HEI management, SD coordinators/commissioners/managers, student initiatives, technical administration, academic staff. Data from the eleven case studies were analysed using qualitative text analysis (Kuckartz 2013). First, a thematic qualitative text analysis was conducted. Major categories for the analysis were derived from the interview guide which referred to the abovementioned literature. After coding data from three HEIs, additional categories and subcategories were created. Subsequently, data from all eleven cases were coded using the revised categories, and a category-based analysis was conducted, creating thematic summaries for all coded text segments. On this basis, case profiles were produced which, in addition to a timeline of their SD processes, comprised findings on the state of SD activities, initiatives and actors, motives and objectives, views on the societal role of HEIs, influencing factors (structural/institutional, processual, personal, HEI size, external), and case specifics of particular interest. Case profiles were used to carry out a cross-case topical analysis with the aim to identify differences and similarities. Four key aspects of SD approaches in HEIs emerged based on which another round of analysis was conducted. Firstly, the summaries from the thematic analysis were recoded with the four aspects used as the main analytical categories. Based on these summaries, “opposing” traits of SD governance were defined, and associations between the four aspects were analysed. Consequently, each aspect was conceptualised as a bipolar continuum, and ideal type definitions of the end points of each continuum were constructed. As a result of locating each case within the different continuums, the ratings from the analysis could be used to identify different groups of HEIs. While this provided valuable insights, it proved difficult to identify overall patterns beyond this group. As a consequence, it was decided to introduce two additional, overarching analytical categories. These were formed by combining two of the four aspects in each category and calculating the average scores. The resulting scores were used to map the eleven HEIs in a two-dimensional space which, inter alia, shall be presented through this paper.
Through identifying key approaches in the spectrum of organisational culture, the paper seeks to shed light on a so far neglected aspect of SD at HEIs, expands the existing categorization schemes of sustainability governance in HEIs, and feeds the discussion on the development of holistic governance structures and processes. In detail, it provides two major categories that are essential to the organizational culture of an HEI in its SD process: holistic orientation and organizational learning orientation. In both categories, two different aspects are combined as described in the methodology section. Holistic orientation subsumes the conceptualization of sustainable development and the organizational scope of the sustainability process that are applied at the HEI. Under organizational learning orientation falls the attribution of responsibility when it comes to SD implementation and the HEI’s general mission or self-conceptualization. The paper offers an original and empirically founded categorization for HEIs on their path towards SD. This new scheme can be applied by SD practitioners, researchers and higher education policy makers alike. By September 2019, the project also seeks to offer an in-depth consideration of the connections between these categories that describe socio-cultural orientations and were identified inductively with deductively assumed governance dimensions that describe the progress of the SD process at each HEI. Hypothetically, this research will underline the relevance of organizational culture in SD implementation and therefore contribute to the discourse on SD governance at HEIs.
Adams, R., Martin, S., Boom, K. (2018). University culture and sustainability: Designing and implementing an enabling framework. Journal of Cleaner Production 171:. 434-445. Baker-Shelley, A.; van Zeijl-Rozema, A.; Martens, P. (2017) ‘A Conceptual Synthesis of Organisational Transformation. How to Diagnose, and Navigate, Pathways for Sustainability at Universities?’, Journal of Cleaner Production. Barth, M. (2015): Implementing sustainability in higher education. Learning in an age of transformation. London: Routledge. Leal Filho, W. (2015): Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education. Reviewing Needs. In: Leal Filho, W. (eds.): Transformative Approaches to Sustainable Development at Universities. Cham: Springer International Publishing (World Sustainability Series): 3–12. Lozano, R., Ceulemans, K., Alonso-Almeida, M., Huisingh, D., Lozano, F.J., and Waas, T. (2015). A review of commitment and implementation of sustainable development in higher education. Results from a worldwide survey. Journal of Cleaner Production 108: 1–18. Mader, Clemens; Scott, Geoffrey; Abdul Razak, Dzulkifli (2013): Effective change management, governance and policy for sustainability transformation in higher education. Sustainability 4 (3): 264–284. Michelsen, G. (2016): Policy, politics and polity in higher education for sustainable development. In: Barth, M.; Michelsen, G., Thomas, I.; Rieckmann. M. (eds.): Routledge Handbook of Higher Education for Sustainable Development. London: Routledge: 40-55. Rath, K.; Schmitt, C. T. (2017): Sustainability at Universities: Degrees of Institutionalization for Sustainability at German Higher Education Institutions—A Categorization Pattern. In: Leal Filho, W.; Brandli, L.; Castro, P.; Newman, J. (eds.): Handbook of Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development in Higher Education. Volume 1. Cham, s.l.: Springer International Publishing (World Sustainability Series):451–470. Spira, F.; Tappeser, V.; Meyer, A. (2013) ‘Perspectives on Sustainability Governance from Universities in the USA, UK, and Germany: How do Change Agents Employ Different Tools to Alter Organizational Cultures and Structures?’, in S. Caeiro, W. Leal Filho, C. Jabbour, U. M. Azeiteiro (eds.). Sustainability assessment tools in higher education institutions. Mapping trends and good practices around the world, Cham: Springer: 175–187. Trencher, G., Yarime, M., McCormick, K.B., Doll, C.N.H., Kraines, S.B. (2014). Beyond the third mission: Exploring the emerging university function of co-creation for sustainability. Science and Public Policy 41: 151-179. Weisser, C.R. (2017). Defining sustainability in higher education: a rhetorical analysis. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 18 (7): 1076-1089. Wu, Yen-Chun Jim; Shen, Ju-Peng (2016): Higher education for sustainable development: a systematic review. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 17 (5): 633–651.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Network 6. Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures
Network 7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education
Network 8. Research on Health Education
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Network 10. Teacher Education Research
Network 11. Educational Effectiveness and Quality Assurance
Network 12. LISnet - Library and Information Science Network
Network 13. Philosophy of Education
Network 14. Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research
Network 15. Research Partnerships in Education
Network 16. ICT in Education and Training
Network 17. Histories of Education
Network 18. Research in Sport Pedagogy
Network 19. Ethnography
Network 20. Research in Innovative Intercultural Learning Environments
Network 22. Research in Higher Education
Network 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education
Network 24. Mathematics Education Research
Network 25. Research on Children's Rights in Education
Network 26. Educational Leadership
Network 27. Didactics – Learning and Teaching
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