Universities are engines of societal transformation and can nurture future citizens and navigate them towards sustainability through their educational programmes. Here, we developed an assessment framework for educational institutions to evaluate the contribution of their educational programmes to sustainability by reviewing the alignment of their intended learning outcomes to the enabling conditions for a vision of sustainability based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The tool is based on a systemic grouping of the SDGs into eight sustainability attributes, namely, Safe Operating Space, Just Operating Space, Resilient Sustainable Behaviours, Alternative Economic Models, Health and Wellbeing, Collaboration, Diversity and Inclusion, and Transparency and Governance, and uses a word code developed specifically for each sustainability attribute to assess the coverage of the SDGs in master’s programmes’ learning outcomes. The tool uses multi-criteria analysis to compare and rank programmes according to the alignment of their learning outcomes to the sustainability attributes and their contribution to sustainability. It was first tested using data from a University’s eighteen master’s programmes on a range of subjects and subsequently applied to compare forty UK and European master’s programmes focusing on environment and sustainability. Findings demonstrate that even environmental programmes face some important gaps related to health, wellbeing, diversity, inclusion, and collaboration, amongst others, and reinforce the need for all universities to understand the contribution of their programmes to sustainability. The application of the tool can generate empirical evidence on the effectiveness of university programmes and establish a strong argument regarding the potential of education as a tool for achieving the SDGs.
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