Special Issue "Sustainability Assessment in Higher Education Institutions"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Education and Approaches".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 November 2019).

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Sandra Caeiro
Website
Guest Editor
1. Department of Science and Technology, Universidade Aberta, Rua Escola Politecnica, n. 147, 1269-001 Lisboa, Portugal
2. CENSE, Center for Environmental and Sustainability Research, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, NOVA School of Science and Technology, NOVA University Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
Interests: sustainability assessment; indicators; Higher Education, campus sustainability
Prof. Dr. Ulisses Miranda Azeiteiro
Website
Guest Editor
Department of Biology & CESAM Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies, University of Aveiro, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
Interests: Global Change Biology and Ecology; Marine Biology and Ecology; Zooplankton; Larval Fish; Climate Change and Sustainability
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), within their mission and activities have an important responsibility in the transformation of societies and, in particular, in contributing to the development of a more sustainable society. These Institutions can implement Sustainable Development in different dimensions, according or not to a holistic approach, from education and curricula, campus operation, organizational change management, external community and research to assessment and communication. Ideally, these implementations should be based on a holistic / integrated approach that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calls the "Whole-School Approach". Assessment of the effectiveness and impact of these different dimensions allow measuring and evaluating how sustainability is being applied in practice, and allow highlighting weakness, strengths and improvements needed.

The guest editors would like to invite scholars in different disciplines as well as policy-makers and practitioners to submit manuscripts to this Special Issue. We welcome topical discussions in the forms of research articles, review articles, essays, perspectives, which address topics to be applied in HEI such as:

  • Integrated sustainability assessment tools and benchmarking;
  • Education for Sustainability “Whole-School Approach" implementation;
  • Assessment of competences for education for sustainable development;
  • Assessment of pedagogical strategies for education for Sustainability;
  • Stakeholder engagement and participation processes assessment;
  • Drivers and barriers to ES implementation, and strategies to overcome resistance to sustainability implementation;
  • Assessment of changing attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyles towards Sustainability; 
  • Evaluation of policies, programs and strategies to put in practice Education for Sustainability
  • Evaluation of the impact of Education for Sustainability actions and approaches at short, medium and long term;
  • Innovative approaches and holistic integration in sustainability education (including formal and non formal curricula);
  • Assessment of campus sustainability actions
  • The role of Higher Education in the efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.

Prof. Dr. Sandra Caeiro
Prof. Dr. Ulisses Miranda Azeiteiro
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Higher Education
  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Sustainability Assessment
  • Campus Sustainability
  • Education for Sustainability
  • Curricula
  • Competences
  • Pedagogies
  • Whole-School Approach.

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Sustainability Assessment in Higher Education Institutions
Sustainability 2020, 12(8), 3433; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12083433 - 23 Apr 2020
Abstract
This Special Issue “Sustainability Assessment in Higher Education Institutions” provides peer-reviewed research from several geographies and institutions and covering various topics with the broad objective of achieving an assessment of the effectiveness and impact of different implementation dimensions measuring and evaluating how sustainability [...] Read more.
This Special Issue “Sustainability Assessment in Higher Education Institutions” provides peer-reviewed research from several geographies and institutions and covering various topics with the broad objective of achieving an assessment of the effectiveness and impact of different implementation dimensions measuring and evaluating how sustainability is being applied in practice. A set of nine papers, covering sustainability education, interdisciplinary teaching, sustainable assessment, governance strategies, commitments and practices, and social responsibility at Higher Education Institutions, contribute significantly to this area of knowledge. Full article

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Sustainability Assessment and Benchmarking in Higher Education Institutions—A Critical Reflection
Sustainability 2020, 12(2), 543; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020543 - 10 Jan 2020
Cited by 3
Abstract
Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) play a crucial role in implementing practices for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). This implementation should be done in different dimensions according to a holistic and whole-school approach. Different tools have been adapted and developed to assess this integrated [...] Read more.
Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) play a crucial role in implementing practices for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). This implementation should be done in different dimensions according to a holistic and whole-school approach. Different tools have been adapted and developed to assess this integrated approach. The aim of this research is to critically reflect the existing tools to assess and benchmark ESD implementation and to discuss their applicability in two case studies. Two public Universities in Southern Europe, with headquarters in the capitals of Portugal and Spain were selected to assess and compare the integration of ESD according to a whole-school approach—Universidade Aberta in Portugal and Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain. After a critical analysis of the existing tools based on literature review and a list of criteria classified by experts, two tools were selected to be applied in the case studies. The online Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System Reporting Tool was used in Universidade Aberta and Green Metrics tool was used in Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. The tools were complemented with focus group with key-actors in both universities. The results obtained allowed to identify the need to define a common objective of the assessment tools and limitations they still have. The tools need improvements on their development namely to integrate the external impact of Higher Education Institutions on sustainability, to integrate participatory processes and to assess non-traditional aspects of sustainability. This research hopes to contribute to the continuous research about the usefulness of these assessment and benchmarking tools as drivers to HEIs improve their sustainability performance and their role as agents of changes. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
A Cooperative Interdisciplinary Task Intervention with Undergraduate Nursing and Computer Engineering Students
Sustainability 2019, 11(22), 6325; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11226325 - 11 Nov 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
This study proposed a collaborative methodology among university students in different grades in order to find sustainable strategies that are an added value for students, teachers, and society. In daily professional practice, different professionals must develop skills to collaborate and understand each other. [...] Read more.
This study proposed a collaborative methodology among university students in different grades in order to find sustainable strategies that are an added value for students, teachers, and society. In daily professional practice, different professionals must develop skills to collaborate and understand each other. For that reality to be sustainable, we believe that experiences must begin in the context of higher education. Social network analysis offers a new perspective on optimizing relationships between university students. The main goal of this study was to analyze students’ behavior in their networks following an educational intervention and the association with academic performance, resilience and engagement. This was a descriptive quasi-experimental study with pre–post measures of a cooperative interdisciplinary intervention. Participants comprised 50 nursing and computer engineering students. We measured help, friendship, and negative network centrality, engagement, resilience, and academic performance. No significant differences were observed between pre–post-intervention centrality measures in the negative network. However, the help and friendship networks presented statistically significant differences between inDegreeN, OutDegreeN and EigenvectorN on the one hand, and resilience and engagement—but not academic performance—on the other. Academic performance was solely associated with the team to which participants belonged. Cooperative interdisciplinary learning increased the number of ties and levels of prestige and influence among classmates. Further research is required in order to determine the influence of engagement and resilience on academic performance and the role of negative networks in network formation in education. This study provides important information for proposals on sustainable assessments in the field of higher education. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Motivation of Students at Universities as a Prerequisite of the Education’s Sustainability within the Business Value Generation Context
Sustainability 2019, 11(20), 5577; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11205577 - 10 Oct 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
The aim of this article is to identify substantial factors affecting the motivation of universities’ students to be actively engaged in the education process and define recommendations for the increase of this motivation. As a result, the sustainability of education at universities will [...] Read more.
The aim of this article is to identify substantial factors affecting the motivation of universities’ students to be actively engaged in the education process and define recommendations for the increase of this motivation. As a result, the sustainability of education at universities will be supported, contributing to the increase of the value of human capital of students and, subsequently, to the generation of value for the stakeholder groups in those enterprises where the graduates will be employed. The research hypothesis is focused on the presence of differences in students’ motivation in relation to their gender, study program, and the year of study. To effectively achieve this aim, the analysis, comparison, and the synthesis of the theoretical background was performed, using available sources of secondary data found in the pieces of domestic and foreign professional literature. The pieces of knowledge obtained were supplemented and combined with pieces of information acquired from the questionnaire survey conducted, focusing on the motivation of students of informatics and management at a university in the Slovak Republic. As tools of statistical analysis, tests of independence suitable for nominal categorical data were applied. It was revealed that young people are motivated to study at a university, specifically at the Faculty of Management Science and Informatics, mainly by the prospect of better chances in the labor market, the possibility of getting a higher salary, and higher qualification. The motivation to study at a university in order to improve the opportunity of getting employed in the labor market was more frequently perceived by women. Despite the fact that the level of teaching is considered to be high by almost 50% of the students regardless of their gender, study program, or the year of study, their motivation also stems from their expectations related to their future jobs. The students of informatics expect to have a team of friendly colleagues, delightful and stimulating working conditions, and the opportunity to do meaningful work. Among the students of management, meaningful work was replaced by the opportunity for self-fulfillment. When focusing on other factors, the differences based on the gender, study program, or the year of study were not statistically significant. Based on these findings, specific measures for the faculty’s management were proposed. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Spanish Universities’ Sustainability Performance and Sustainability-Related R&D+I
Sustainability 2019, 11(20), 5570; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11205570 - 10 Oct 2019
Cited by 6
Abstract
For its scope and the breadth of its available resources, the university system is one of the keys to implementing and propagating policies, with sustainability policies being among them. Building on sustainability performance in universities, this study aimed to: Identify the procedures deployed [...] Read more.
For its scope and the breadth of its available resources, the university system is one of the keys to implementing and propagating policies, with sustainability policies being among them. Building on sustainability performance in universities, this study aimed to: Identify the procedures deployed by universities to measure sustainability; detect the strengths and weaknesses of the Spanish university system (SUS) sustainability practice; analyse the SUS contributions to sustainability-related Research, Development and Innovation (R&D+I); and assess the efficacy of such practices and procedures as reported in the literature. The indicators of scientific activity were defined by applying scientometric techniques to analyse the journal (Web of Science) and European project (CORDIS) databases, along with reports issued by national institutions. The findings showed that measuring sustainability in the SUS is a very recent endeavour and that one of the strengths is the university community’s engagement with the ideal. Nonetheless, high performance is still elusive in most of the items analysed. Whereas universities account for nearly 90 % of the Spanish papers published in the WoS subject category, Green and Sustainable Science and Technology, their contribution to research projects is meagre. A divide still exists in the SUS between policies and results, although the gap has been narrowing in recent years. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Reform of Chinese Universities in the Context of Sustainable Development: Teacher Evaluation and Improvement Based on Hybrid Multiple Criteria Decision-Making Model
Sustainability 2019, 11(19), 5471; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11195471 - 02 Oct 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
China is pushing universities to implement reforms in order to achieve the sustainable development goals, but with the development level of teachers becoming the key restricting factor. In this sense, teacher evaluation and improvement act as positive factors for China to achieve the [...] Read more.
China is pushing universities to implement reforms in order to achieve the sustainable development goals, but with the development level of teachers becoming the key restricting factor. In this sense, teacher evaluation and improvement act as positive factors for China to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals. Previous studies on teacher evaluation have usually assumed that the relationship between the evaluation criteria is independent, with the weights of each standard derived from this assumption. However, this assumption is often not in line with the actual situation. Decisions based on these studies are likely to waste resources and may negatively impact the efficiency and effectiveness of teachers’ sustainable development. This study developed an integrated model for the evaluation and improvement of teachers based on the official teacher evaluation criteria of China’s International Scholarly Exchange Curriculum (ISEC) programme and a multiple criteria decision-making methodology. First, a decision-making trial and a laboratory-based analytical network process were used to establish an influential network-relation diagram (INRD) and influential weights under ISEC standards. Next, an important performance analysis was used to integrate the weight and performance of each standard to produce a worst-performance criterion set for each university teacher. Finally, the worst performance set used an INRD to derive an improvement strategy with a cause–effect relationship for each teacher. This study chose a Chinese university that has implemented teaching reform for our case study. The results show that our developed model can assist decision-makers to improve their current evaluations of teachers and to provide a cause–effect improvement strategy for education reform committees and higher education institutions. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Sustainability Strategies in Portuguese Higher Education Institutions: Commitments and Practices from Internal Insights
Sustainability 2019, 11(11), 3227; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11113227 - 11 Jun 2019
Cited by 8
Abstract
The Copernicus Declaration of 1994, which was understood as a commitment to sustainable development (SD) by top management in higher education, was signed by many universities. This signature worked as an important driver for these institutions to put different dimensions of SD principles [...] Read more.
The Copernicus Declaration of 1994, which was understood as a commitment to sustainable development (SD) by top management in higher education, was signed by many universities. This signature worked as an important driver for these institutions to put different dimensions of SD principles into practice. In Portugal, a Southern European country, six of the fourteen universities belonging to the Portuguese University Rectors Council signed the declaration, but no attempt has been made to evaluate how these public universities integrated education for sustainable development at policy and strategy levels. This paper presents the results of a study aimed at identifying to what extent the integration of sustainability in the fourteen universities was achieved, through their own strategic and activity plans and activity and sustainability reports. A detailed content analysis was conducted on these plans and reports within the period from 2005 to 2014 (the time frame of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development), to identify the main commitments and practices. Notwithstanding a lack of national integrated strategies or policies related to education for SD, the results show that the movement made progress at the university level, with good examples and initiatives at several universities. This paper highlights the importance of analyzing the content of plans and reports from higher education institutions (HEIs) when intending to assess and define a country profile for the implementation of sustainability in the educational sector. In addition, this research, conducted in Portugal, may be helpful to understand and value how SD is being applied in the policies and strategies of other European HEIs, as well as to share and encourage best practices and ways of improvement. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Sustainability and Indicators of Newly Formed World-Class Universities (NFWCUs) between 2010 and 2018: Empirical Analysis from the Rankings of ARWU, QSWUR and THEWUR
Sustainability 2019, 11(10), 2745; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11102745 - 14 May 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
In the 21st century, sustainability and indicators of world-class universities have come within the scope of an academic cottage industry. The complex problem of university sustainability implies a big challenge for countries and educators to implement important strategies in an integrated and comprehensive [...] Read more.
In the 21st century, sustainability and indicators of world-class universities have come within the scope of an academic cottage industry. The complex problem of university sustainability implies a big challenge for countries and educators to implement important strategies in an integrated and comprehensive way. This paper highlights and analyzes the sustainability indicators of universities included as newly formed world-class universities (NFWCUs) in the top 100 from 2010 and 2018. The integration of three global ranking scales—the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), the Quacquarelli–Symonds World University Ranking (QS) and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (THEs)—allows us to minimize the impact of the methodology used. This study integrates regression analysis by using statistical grouping, case studies and normative analysis. Our principal findings are as follows: among the commonly ranked top 100 universities in 2018, the ARWU, QS and THE counted 57, compared with 47 in 2010. Thus, comparing 2010 and 2018 shows that 44 of the universities appeared simultaneously in ARWU, QS and THE rankings and maintained a sustainable position in any ranking system in the family of top 100 groups. Three lower-ranked NFWCUs in the hybrid list for 2010 lost their ranking and did not appear in the group of top 100 universities in 2018, which are covered by some catch-up and young universities. The NFWCUs were from US, Australia, China, Singapore, Germany and Belgium. By systematic comparison, the US and UK continued to dominate the stability of NFWCUs in 2010 and 2018. The key sustainability indicators include a high concentration of talent, abundant resources to offer a rich learning environment and conduct advanced research. Generally, the factors were negatively associated with ranking suggesting that a higher score result in top ranking and vice versa. Teaching, research, citation and international outlook were negatively correlated with THE ranking in 2018. Similarly, Alumni and PUB were negatively associated with ARWU ranking in 2018. All factors except international student ratio were significantly correlated in QS ranking either in 2010 or 2018, where negative association was observed. The significant contribution of our study is to highlight that for the sustainability of universities, it is necessary to have an increasing emphasis on the effectiveness and efficiency of government-supported research, stability of investments and more approaches to employ international initiatives. The results also confirm the appropriate governance, developing global students and place emphasis on science and technology as additional factors in the approaches of pathways to NFWCUs, with delivery of outstanding educational programs and comprehensive internationalization as a key indicator for performance improvement and global university ranking systems. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Identifying and Overcoming Barriers to Integrating Sustainability across the Curriculum at a Teaching-Oriented University
Sustainability 2019, 11(9), 2652; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11092652 - 09 May 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
This research collects and analyzes student and faculty knowledge and perceptions toward sustainability education at a predominately undergraduate, teaching-oriented university. In-depth, qualitative methods distinguish low- and high-knowledge student and faculty cohorts, identify perceived barriers to sustainability education in each cohort, and recognize strategies [...] Read more.
This research collects and analyzes student and faculty knowledge and perceptions toward sustainability education at a predominately undergraduate, teaching-oriented university. In-depth, qualitative methods distinguish low- and high-knowledge student and faculty cohorts, identify perceived barriers to sustainability education in each cohort, and recognize strategies to overcome the barriers identified by each cohort. Data collected from recorded and transcribed semi-structured interviews of student and faculty subjects underwent analysis via repeated readings to uncover key themes. Results required developing metrics for student and faculty sustainability knowledge and attitudes across disciplines, determining discipline-specific gaps in sustainability knowledge and differences in attitudes, and relating implementation barriers to general or specific knowledge gaps and attitudes. Findings identified low and high levels of sustainability knowledge within the student and faculty subject population and revealed barriers in pursuing interdisciplinary sustainability curricula across disciplines and among both students and faculty at the study university. Overall, higher sustainability knowledge participants tend to identify barriers related to institutional accountability while lower sustainability knowledge participants tend to identify barriers related to personal responsibility. Distributing barriers and solutions along a continuum from personal responsibility to educational institution responsibility reveals more recognition of barriers at the personal level and more solutions proposed at the institutional level. This result may reflect a common tendency to deny personal responsibility when addressing sustainability challenges. Full article
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Review

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Open AccessReview
A Matter of Responsible Management from Higher Education Institutions
Sustainability 2019, 11(22), 6502; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11226502 - 18 Nov 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Higher education institutions (HEIs) are influential social institutions which disseminate knowledge, promote innovation, and educate future decision-makers. The increasing awareness of HEIs as social actors has increased the pressure on them to accept and act upon their social responsibility. Processing this responsibility requires [...] Read more.
Higher education institutions (HEIs) are influential social institutions which disseminate knowledge, promote innovation, and educate future decision-makers. The increasing awareness of HEIs as social actors has increased the pressure on them to accept and act upon their social responsibility. Processing this responsibility requires a structured management approach. The little attention given thus far to management performance and structured steering processes of social responsibility in HEIs marks the research gap the present study is focused on. This article provides a systematic review of scientific and academic publications, applying the concept of Social Performance after Wood (1991). The study aims to combine different research and modeling approaches to examine individual elements of social performance along the dimensions of processes of social responsiveness and outcomes of institutional behavior. With this approach, the study aims to answer the question of how HEIs assume their responsibilities as social institutions. The results show that observable outcomes of social behavior in the academic environment reflect a broad understanding of different approaches. By clustering the encoded literature into processes and outcomes, the study structures the fragmented body of research reflecting the various characteristics of the higher education sector. Full article
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