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Rethinking higher education in light of the sustainable development goals: results from a workshop and examples of implementation in a medical university

Mia von Knorring (Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics (LIME), Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden)
Hanna Karlsson (Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden)
Elizabeth Stenwall (Department of Dental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden)
Matti Johannes Nikkola (Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden)
Maria Niemi (Department of Global Public Health, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 13 February 2024

Issue publication date: 3 June 2024

95

Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to analyse student and teaching staff views on how higher education (HE) can contribute to sustainable development, and to provide examples of how a medical university has adopted the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as part of its institutional strategies and practises.

Design/methodology/approach

The study is based on participant views from a conference, which aimed to identify actions needed for HE to contribute to the SDGs. More than 500 students, teachers and academic leaders participated at workshops to discuss and reflect on the role of higher education institutions (HEIs) in sustainable development. The discussion key points were recorded on flipcharts, and the analysis builds on all written statements from the nine workshops. Based on the findings from the workshop, steering documents and activities of a medical university were identified as examples of implementation.

Findings

Two overarching interdependent themes were identified and indicated a need to rethink the role not only of HE per se but also that of HEIs at large, to meet the challenges of sustainable development. The study also provides an example of how such organizational change can be practically implemented at a medical university, through the establishment of overarching institutional strategies, funding opportunities and external collaborations.

Practical implications

The findings reflect a “bottom-up” call from students and educational staff for HEIs to step up and contribute to systems change – both through a change in pedagogies, as well as through an institution-wide approach and a shift in the role of HEIs in society.

Originality/value

The study is unique in providing an exemplar of the implementation of sustainable development in HE at a specific medical university.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Professor Göran Tomson for his insightful comments on the manuscript and the entire project group and steering group of the project “One Karolinska Institutet for Sustainable Development” for valuable feedback and comments throughout the work process with this article. They would also like to thank all those who made the Rethinking Higher Education conference possible, including the conference organizers, key-note speakers, workshop leaders and coordinators, funders and all the conference participants, as well as the collaborating universities and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Funding sources: This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Corrigendum: It has come to the attention of the publisher that the article, von Knorring, M., Karlsson, H., Stenwall, E., Nikkola, M.J. and Niemi, M. (2024), “Rethinking higher education in light of the sustainable development goals: results form a workshop and examples of implementation in a medical university”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-07-2023-0268 was submitted by the authors with an error in the title. This has now been corrected in the online version of the paper. The authors sincerely apologise for this error and for any inconvenience caused.

Citation

von Knorring, M., Karlsson, H., Stenwall, E., Nikkola, M.J. and Niemi, M. (2024), "Rethinking higher education in light of the sustainable development goals: results from a workshop and examples of implementation in a medical university", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 927-942. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-07-2023-0268

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

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