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Sustainability in higher education’s annual reports: An empirical study on Australian and Austrian universities

Michaela Maria Schaffhauser-Linzatti (Department of Business Administration, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria)
Stefan F. Ossmann (Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, and Department of Economic and Social History, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 9 January 2018

Issue publication date: 18 January 2018

803

Abstract

Purpose

Higher education institutions are regarded as forerunners and pioneers of sustainability. However, it is to question whether they actually fulfill their role model function. This paper aims to reveal whether selected universities in Australia and Austria meet the reporting expectations about their activities on sustainability in very heterogeneous environments.

Design/methodology/approach

Annual reports of selected universities in Australia and Austria are screened by the qualitative text analysis suggested by Mayring to identify their information policy on sustainability. Following the standard definitions, sustainability comprises economic, environmental and social aspects as main categories, which are supplemented further by specifically adapted eight subcategories.

Findings

The results reveal that the universities concentrate on economic information, preferably on accounting, whereas social aspects are of second importance. Environmental activities that essentially shape the image of sustainability for the majority of the stakeholders are mostly unattended.

Research limitations/implications

For further research, the authors suggest analyzing the reports of additional countries to get a bigger picture on the role of sustainability information in university reporting. Possible limitations are because of language use and time requirements, as each report must be encoded manually.

Practical implications

The results reveal the gaps that standard setters should fill by enforcing sustainability content in universities’ reports.

Originality/value

This paper is the first to analyze the annual reports of international universities in respect to sustainability. Hereby, we further fill a gap by applying a qualitative text analysis on the basis of individually derived categories to reveal the sustainability aspects more precisely.

Keywords

Citation

Schaffhauser-Linzatti, M.M. and Ossmann, S.F. (2018), "Sustainability in higher education’s annual reports: An empirical study on Australian and Austrian universities", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 233-248. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-05-2016-0093

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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