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Track 2: Sustainability and Higher Education

With track chairs Victoria Rammer & Verena Radinger-Peer

Higher education institutions are considered to be particularly relevant actors for the implementation of sustainability principles as well as achieving the Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs). The advancement of sustainable development in higher education institutions has shifted from a ‘sustainability in HEI’ phase – whereby sustainability entered curricula, research, management practices and campus operations – towards ‘HE for sustainability’. The latter is characterised by knowledge production via collaboration with external stakeholders and an increasing focus on the surrounding society with a geographical focus on the immediate communities and regions. Especially the UNESCO program “ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) for 2030” emphasises a Whole-Institution-Approach to implement the SDGs within the HEI as well as to support policy making and transformations within local communities.

In this context we welcome methodological, theoretical as well as empirical contributions to the following topics:

HEIs and their impact on the societal environment

HEIs are expected to contribute to societal sustainability transformation via the different channels of education/teaching, research, and outreach. Yet still under-researched is the impact of their different activities and how that impact can be measured. What contributions can HEI, education/teaching and research make to sustainable development (socially, ecologically, and economically)? How can the effects be evaluated/assessed? Which indicators are relevant for the measurability of impacts/societal contributions?

The Sustainable Development Goals (2030 Agenda) create three main challenges for implementation: complexity, indivisibility, and the demand for a deep societal transformation. In this context HEIs are in demand to equip their students/graduates with particular capabilities, skills and values as well as to engage in system-oriented inter- and transdisciplinary research approaches: what role do different types of HEIs play in achieving the SDGs? How can they contribute to the SDGs (e.g., different cooperation formats, channels)?

Various networks and partnerships influence the sustainability discourse as well as practice at HEIs, and strengthen their capacities to contribute to societal sustainability transformations: to what extent can partnerships and networks (among HEIs, HEIs and companies, HEIs and policy makers, HEIs and NGOs, HEIs and Communities, ...) foster the HEIs’ contribution to sustainability transformations? What social, economic, and ecological added value can they create in the long term?

HEIs’ contributions to societal sustainability transformations are not without their challenges, due to ongoing tensions in the HE system (e.g., increasing competition for students, funding  and prestige versus the claim to contribute to the green transition and therewith inter-organisational collaboration) up to the individual level (e.g., rewarding of third mission activities in comparison to scientific publications and project funds raised): what strategies do HEIs/HEI members apply to deal with this tension? What are the perceived challenges and opportunities to interact with economy and society to spur sustainable transformation? How can the university as an actor take on an essential role (third mission) to trigger sustainable change?

Sustainable transformation within higher education and at individual HEIs

A growing number of higher education institutions are working to adopt a Whole-Institution Approach (WIA) to sustainable development. The change agents of these processes are often confronted with challenges and barriers to implement sustainability strategies: what challenges and barriers do HEIs/HEI members face in implementing sustainability strategies? How can these be dealt with?

Digitalisation has a significant impact on higher education as it offers solutions and creates new challenges. It places new demands on knowledge, skills, and abilities for the labour market. However, in the context of rapid technological change, sustainability must be maintained, which requires a balance between economic, environmental, and social development, including education: how can digitalisation support the sustainable transformation of/within HEIs? What are the implications of sustainable digital transformation for HEIs?

Sustainability in teaching, research and organisation encompasses not only environmental issues. Integrating the principles of sustainable transformation also requires a paradigm shift within the processes and consciousness of the people who operate in this context: how can sustainability be integrated into teaching, curricula, research, and the organisation itself in the long term? What impact can this integration have on facilitating knowledge transfer?

The UNESCO’s “Education for Sustainable Development: Towards Achieving the SDGs (ESD for 2030)” as well as the “Green Education Initiative” of the European Union emphasise the need to equip learners of all ages with the necessary skills, knowledge and attitudes (e.g., in the field of climate change, biodiversity and sustainability) to contribute to a greener and more sustainable future: how can learners as well as teachers/lecturers in all disciplines be equipped with the knowledge, skills, attributes, and values required to pursue sustainable visions of the future? Which teaching formats, tools and pedagogical approaches have proven effective?

This track is chaired by:

Victoria Rammer

University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria

Verena Radinger-Peer

University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU)

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