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Barriers to innovation and sustainability in universities: an international comparison

Lucas Veiga Ávila (Department of Management, Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Brazil)
Thiago Antonio Beuron (Department of Management, Universidade Federal do Pampa, Bage, Brazil)
Luciana Londero Brandli (Civil and Environmental Engineering Master Program, University of Passo Fundo, Passo Fundo, Brazil)
Luana Inês Damke (Department of Management, Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Brazil)
Rudiney Soares Pereira (Department of Forestry Engineering, Federal University of Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Brazil)
Leander Luiz Klein (Department of Management, Federal University of Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Brazil)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 28 June 2019

Issue publication date: 17 September 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Sustainability has become a global concern to deal with complex and unprecedent survival, social, political and peace issues. Higher education institutions play a key role in this transformation. This paper aims to conduct a comparative analysis by continents of innovation and sustainability barriers in universities. The document also offers opportunities and potential actions for universities to create initiatives to minimize barriers and move towards a sustainable future.

Design/methodology/approach

To carry out the study, 25 closed questions, composed of a five-point Likert scale, were applied to 283 university representatives (rectors, managers or specialists in the area of innovation and sustainability), to check the degree of application of the questionnaire.

Findings

From an exploratory statistical analysis, it was found that the main barriers were lacking of planning and focus, lacking of environmental committee, lacking of applicability and continuity of actions and resistance to changes. Among continents, Africa and Oceania presented the best innovation and sustainability indicators in universities. The main approach of this exploratory study on barriers in universities is as an international research, whose findings showed that several barriers currently prevent universities from getting involved in sustainable development efforts. However, as we debate sustainable development, which is gaining momentum, universities are supposed to move forward to overcome barriers for the sake of implementing goals and initiatives. In addition, universities must seize opportunities to contribute through innovation in teaching, research and initiatives to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals.

Research limitations/implications

This study has two main limitations: first, online research has involved professionals working in the field of sustainable development in higher education. Second, there were no interviews conducted to gather personal information with students and servers. However, the broad scope of the study and its strong international base provide important results that enable the design of an adequate profile of sustainability and innovation challenges that are currently found in universities.

Practical implications

The study showed that there is lack of knowledge management to connect science, technology, innovation and sustainability, to improve management conditions, innovate, make decisions, support initiatives, create incentives and control mechanisms. Trends suggest that future professional activities involve skills in dealing with complex problems, sometimes in careers and jobs yet to be created. Traditional teaching methods are generally only prepared for routine tasks and for existing jobs, thus requiring the creation of new approaches capable of stimulating creativity and autonomy, which are essential for the present and future demands of innovation and sustainability.

Social implications

The exploratory study on barriers in universities brings international research as main approach, which made it possible to check that several barriers currently prevent universities from getting involved in sustainable development efforts. However, as we debate sustainable development, which is gaining momentum, it is important that universities should move forward to overcome the barriers to implementation of goals and initiatives. In addition, universities should take advantage of opportunities to contribute through innovation in teaching, research and action to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals.

Originality/value

Developed countries are leaders in promoting sustainability, while developing or underdeveloped countries are laggards. In this approach, the study sought to verify the differences through a comparative analysis across continents. As for originality and innovation, this paper presents an international study in the view of specialists who respond based on the experience of their university.

Keywords

Citation

Veiga Ávila, L., Beuron, T.A., Brandli, L.L., Damke, L.I., Pereira, R.S. and Klein, L.L. (2019), "Barriers to innovation and sustainability in universities: an international comparison", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 20 No. 5, pp. 805-821. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-02-2019-0067

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited