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Higher education for sustainable development at EARTH University

Carlos Rafael Rodríguez-Solera (Instituto de Investigaciones para el Desarrollo de la Educación, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, Mexico)
Marisol Silva-Laya (Instituto de Investigaciones para el Desarrollo de la Educación, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, Mexico)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 6 March 2017

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this article is to present the experience of a Central American university that has been successfully advancing an educational model focused on sustainability for over 25 years. Many universities in industrialized nations are assuming a more active role in promoting sustainable development, while in emerging countries, interest in this issue is recent and not well known.

Design/methodology/approach

A study was conducted on perceptions of the impact from graduates of EARTH (Escuela de Agricultura de la Región Tropical Húmeda) University in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, utilizing a mixed methodology that combined the application of a standardized questionnaire, together with focus groups of graduates, and semi-structured interviews of graduates, their employers, members of their communities, clients of the companies where they work and colleagues.

Findings

Agricultural engineers who received their education at EARTH University have had a positive social, economic and environmental impact in their communities of origin. They have taken on leadership positions and have become change agents who are aware of the social needs around them. They contribute to economic growth and job creation, and at the same time, promote sustainable management of natural resources.

Research limitations/implications

It is a case study and their findings are limited.

Practical implications

Learning about EARTH University’s experience may be useful for other higher education institutions seeking to cultivate this perspective in their degree programs, and for academics who support a fundamental reorientation in higher education aimed at confronting the challenge of promoting sustainable development.

Social implications

The results established that most of the agronomists who studied at EARTH University are having a positive economic, social and environmental influence, which appears to be closely associated with their university education. This suggests that higher education may in effect play an important role in promoting sustainability and contributing elements for advancing this perspective in higher education in Latin America.

Originality/value

This study of EARTH University’s educational model reveals that, in the case of Latin America, education for sustainability cannot be limited to providing training in natural resources management. The promotion of inclusive development supposes that students have learned how to manage productive activities that are economically and socially sustainable, and that students have received a solid education in values, aimed at fostering a commitment to build a fairer society.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors thank the following team of associate researchers for their collaboration in the study: Mariela Escobedo Hernández, Juan Luis Fernández Valdez, Bianca Garduño Bello, Claudia Osiris Martínez Valle and Nancy Wence. The authors also express their gratitude to EARTH’s directors and academic staff for the invitation to conduct this study and the assistance provided.

Citation

Rodríguez-Solera, C.R. and Silva-Laya, M. (2017), "Higher education for sustainable development at EARTH University", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 278-293. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-06-2015-0104

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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