Steering sustainable development in higher education – Outcomes from Brazil and Finland

Authors: Mervi Friman, Dusan Schreiber, Rilla Syrjänen, Emma Kokkonen, Arto Mutanen and Janne Salminen

Type of publication: Article peer review

Higher education institutes (HEIs) have made a deep commitment to prioritizing sustainable development (SD). Their task is to support practices that improve conditions in societies with respect to ecological, economic, and social issues, e.g., tackling the wicked problems of the world. In this case study, which took place at Feevale University (Feevale), Brazil, and at Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), Finland, the following topics were studied: (1) whether there are international and national SD steering policies that might be relevant to higher education development in these particular universities; (2) whether this steering has impacted HEI's own SD policy and steering; (3) whether such in-house operations are affecting SD content within curricula; and (4) how a pedagogic approach influences the incidence of SD-oriented content at the bachelor's degree level. The analysis of policy level data was based on international and national policy papers recognized separately in both universities. As an indicator of the university's level of commitment to sustainability activities, we measured the incidence level of UNECE's SD themes in the curriculum. A hermeneutical approach was applied to the analysis to demonstrate possible systemic interactions between (inter)national SD policy and SD education at HEIs. At HAMK, some evidence was found of a national level top-down steering process in the university's SD activities. At Feevale, the enhancing of SD education is more of a bottom-up process. International steering appeared to be weak in both universities. The study uses unique quantitative data to show how the incidence of SD content in the curriculum is related to the pedagogical approach in each university [content (Feevale) vs. competence (HAMK)]. It was concluded that differences in national SD steering policy and pedagogical approach in the HEI led to divergent curricula structures in relation to the volume of the SD education between the two HEIs. Regardless of such a divergence, an appropriate balance between epistemic and ethical SD competences should be guaranteed for all bachelors.

Friman, M. Schreiber, D., Syrjänen, R., Kokkonen, E., Mutanen, A., Salminen, J. 2018. Steering sustainable development in higher education – Outcomes from Brazil and Finland. Journal of Cleaner Production, 186: 364-372.
DOI 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.03.090