Over the last two decades, there has been growing awareness of the pivotal role higher education institutions (HEIs) play in striving towards a society that is based on sustainability principles and able to tackle complex global problems, such as climate change, or poverty and social inequality (Disterheft et al., 2013; Wals, 2014). Supported by international efforts such as UNESCO’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UN DESD) (2005-2014), and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) (2015-2030), HEIs around the world have been proposing and implementing initiatives to enhance their ability to address sustainability issues, and to, most importantly, equip their students with the necessary competences to address wicked sustainability challenges (Buckler and Creech, 2014; Filho et al., 2015; Lozano et al., 2013, 2015).
The topic of sustainability integration into higher education has been covered extensively in the literature. Some authors have provided reviews of the literature on Education for Sustainable Development (e.g., Karatzoglou, 2013; Vaughter et al., 2013), and on specific subtopics, such as sustainability in management education (Figueiro and Raufflet, 2015), sustainability reporting in higher education (Ceulemans et al., 2015), sustainability assessment tools (Yarime and Tanaka, 2012), and learning and institutionalisation processes in the context of the UN DESD (Wals, 2014). Such reviews have highlighted the need for further research covering initiatives that address sustainability integration holistically, in contrast to studying stand-alone initiatives into education, research, campus operations, or community outreach (Karatzoglou, 2013; Lozano et al., 2013, 2015). Another issue is the question of how to assess (holistically) ongoing sustainability initiatives in individual HEIs and on a larger scale (regional, national, international) (Ceulemans et al., 2011, 2015; Lozano et al., 2015; Wals, 2014).
The latest UN framework to support Education for Sustainable Development, i.e. the Global Action Programme, has also pointed to the need to provide adequate monitoring and evaluation of sustainability efforts (Hopkins, 2014). While there are a number of existing tools to assess HEIs’ main activities in relation to sustainability (for examples, see Fischer et al., 2015; Shriberg, 2002; Yarime and Tanaka, 2012), there have been limited in-depth reviews of such tools, or testing their validity and reliability through empirical studies. Other topics missing in the literature are the use of participatory approaches to assess sustainability in higher education and the connection of sustainability assessment to organizational change management (see Ceulemans et al., 2015; Disterheft et al., 2015).
Therefore, this Special Issue of Sustainability focuses on advancing the topic of sustainability assessment in higher education. We ask for conceptual and empirical contributions addressing holistic approaches to assess and integrate sustainability into all aspects of HEIs. The topics of interest for this Special Issue include (but are not limited to):
- Analysing the need for sustainability assessment: To what end and for whom?
- Addressing the challenge of how to assess sustainability integration in HEIs holistically;
- Providing in-depth reviews (validity, reliability) of assessment tools with empirical data;
- Studying the link between sustainability assessment and the achievement of the SDGs;
- Covering the assessment of sustainability capacities (competencies/skills) of students;
- Addressing challenges such as measuring inputs or outputs of sustainability integration in curricula;
- Studying the importance of participatory approaches and stakeholder dialogue in sustainability assessment; and
- Addressing the link between sustainability reporting and sustainability assessment tools in higher education.
In case of any questions on possible topics to include in this Special Issue, please contact the guest editors.
Assist. Prof. Dr. Kim Ceulemans
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Rodrigo Lozano
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