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An overview of research trends on sustainability in higher education – an exploratory study

Walter Leal Filho (School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)
Fernanda Frankenberger Silva (Business School, PUCPR, Curitiba, Brazil and Business School, Universidade Positivo, Curitiba, Brazil)
Amanda Salvia (Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany)
Chris Shiel (Department of Life and Environmental Science, Bournemouth University, Poole, UK)
Arminda Paço (Department of Business and Economics, Research Unit NECE, University of Beira Interior, Covilha, Portugal)
Elizabeth Price (Department of Natural Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)
Luciana Londero Brandli (Universidade de Passo Fundo, Passo Fundo, Brazil)
Izabela Simon Rampasso (Universidad Católica del Norte, Antofagasta, Chile)
Rosley Anholon (School of Mechanical Engineering, State University of Campinas, Campinas, Brazil)
Osvaldo Luiz Gonçalves Quelhas (Escola de Engenharia, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niterói, Brazil)
Rudi Wessel Pretorius (Department of Geography, Unisa, Pretoria, South Africa)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 23 March 2023

Issue publication date: 18 May 2023




This study aims to investigate the main areas in which researchers are focusing their efforts in terms of sustainability in higher education (curriculum, campus greening, research, governance or outreach), the format in which this research is performed (in terms of individual or combined efforts) and the primary research focus (in terms of local or global issues).


Trends on sustainability research were investigated by means of an online survey – the World Survey on Sustainability Publishing and Research in Higher Education, which was disseminated among members of the European School of Sustainability Science and Research and the Inter-University Sustainable Development Research Programme.


The survey collected responses from 103 researchers across over 40 countries. Three trends emerged: in spite of the intrinsic value of sustainability research in higher education, this area is not as mature as one could expect; the range of themes covered is wide and addresses a variety of areas; and individuals working alone is the most common means of doing research, whereas research at the university, department and faculty level appears to be less common.


The paper outlines some measures via which higher education institutions may be able to take more advantage of the many opportunities sustainability research offers to them.



This paper is part of the “100 papers to accelerate the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals” initiative.


Leal Filho, W., Frankenberger Silva, F., Salvia, A., Shiel, C., Paço, A., Price, E., Brandli, L.L., Rampasso, I.S., Anholon, R., Quelhas, O.L.G. and Pretorius, R.W. (2023), "An overview of research trends on sustainability in higher education – an exploratory study", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 24 No. 5, pp. 1161-1175.



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