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Education for sustainable development in Portuguese universities: The key actors’ opinions

Carla Sofia Farinha (Department of Science and Technology, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, Portugal and CENSE Center for Sustainability and Environmental Research, NOVA University of Lisbon, Portugal)
Ulisses Azeiteiro (Department of Biology and CESAM Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies, Universidade de Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal)
Sandra Sofia Caeiro (Department of Science and Technology, Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, Portugal and CENSE Center for Sustainability and Environmental Research, NOVA University of Lisbon, Portugal)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 7 August 2018

Issue publication date: 15 August 2018

793

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to determine, from key actors’ perspective, how sustainability has been integrated into the policies and strategies of higher education institutions (HEIs), particularly Portuguese public universities, within the framework of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UN DESD) 2005-2014.

Design/methodology/approach

Semi-structured exploratory interviews were conducted after gathering a sample of 15 key actors in decision-making processes who designed and implemented Portuguese education for sustainable development (ESD). Seven interviews with the key actors were undertaken and analyzed, leading to other plans, policies and programs that were not publicly accessible.

Findings

The main findings are the lack of commitment from governmental institutions to implementing ESD at the university level and how few documents are partially linked to sustainable development, according to the key actors’ opinions. Nevertheless, Portuguese universities’ autonomy and their social responsibility have lead them to develop several initiatives and policies toward ESD.

Research limitations/implications

Convenience sample does not allow results to be generalized to all Portuguese HEIs. Future investigation will be undertaken, including the analysis of plans, policies and strategies at university level, and a questionnaire survey will be applied to those responsible for implementing sustainability in Portuguese universities.

Practical implications

This study provides findings, conclusions and recommendations that ultimately motivate HEIs to achieve sustainable development and to be more effective in integrating sustainability into their policies and strategies.

Originality/value

The paper contributes to the literature by reflecting the lack of integration of policies and strategies in HEIs in a southern European country (Portugal), within the framework and goals of the UN DESD 2005-2014, and by explaining similar patterns probably existing in other countries.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank all interviewees, who were actors with responsibility in the process, for sharing their valuable but necessarily different experiences.

Citation

Farinha, C.S., Azeiteiro, U. and Caeiro, S.S. (2018), "Education for sustainable development in Portuguese universities: The key actors’ opinions", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 912-941. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-09-2017-0168

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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