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Are distance higher education institutions sustainable enough? – A comparison between two distance learning universities

Luis-Alberto Casado-Aranda (Department of Marketing and Market Research, Universidad de Granada, Granada, Spain)
Sandra Sofia Caeiro (Department of Science and Technology, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, Portugal and Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Nova School of Business and Economics, New University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal)
Jorge Trindade (Department of Science and Technology, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, Portugal and Instituto de Geografia e Ordenamento do Território, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal)
Arminda Paço (Department of Business and Economics, Research unit NECE, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal)
David Lizcano Casas (Department of ICT and Sustainability, Universidad a Distancia de Madrid, Collado Villalba, Spain)
Ana Landeta (Department of ICT and Sustainability, Universidad a Distancia de Madrid, Collado Villalba, Spain)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 14 December 2020

Issue publication date: 2 July 2021

Abstract

Purpose

Universities are continually transforming its structure and governance in response to the new social, environmental and economic challenges. Particularly, there has recently been a growing academic interest for measuring sustainable practices of higher education institutions (HEI) aiming to monitor and reduce their carbon emissions, as well as transform them into more sustainable organizations. More recent studies began to focus also on the sustainable performance of distance education Universities. So it became crucial to evaluate their sustainability practices through sustainability assessment tools with the aim of improving their sustainability performance and boosting their role as agents of academic, social and economic change. The purpose of this study is to assess and compare holistically sustainability implementation in two similar distance learning universities and to evaluate their advantages and disadvantages.

Design/methodology/approach

One of the most rigorous and internationally used sustainability assessment tools was used – the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, to evaluate and compare sustainability implementation in two distance universities, one from Spain and another from Portugal: the Madrid Open University and Universidade Aberta. Indicators of both universities were compared and ways of improvement in both universities were widely discussed.

Findings

The results of this research show that there is a similar pattern in both universities. Both have low performance in campus operations and low levels of community participation but good performance in sustainability courses and programmes offer. The results of both institutions were compared and allowed a learning process for improvement.

Originality/value

This research hopes to contribute to the continuous research about the usefulness of sustainability assessment tools in particular when applied to distance universities at the time that offers new paths to carry out improved sustainable practices in crucial areas of interest such as research, administration, education and resource-saving. This research also highlights the value of distance learning universities and their ability to be more sustainable after the advent of COVID-19.

Keywords

Citation

Casado-Aranda, L.-A., Caeiro, S.S., Trindade, J., Paço, A., Lizcano Casas, D. and Landeta, A. (2021), "Are distance higher education institutions sustainable enough? – A comparison between two distance learning universities", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 22 No. 4, pp. 709-730. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-07-2020-0260

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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