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The significance of sustainability in higher education: a view to the curricular proposal at a Colombian University

Ana Elena Builes-Vélez (Department of Achitecture and Design, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Medellin, Colombia)
Juliana Restrepo (Department of Achitecture and Design, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Medellin, Colombia)
Juan Diego Martínez (Education and Pedagogy School, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Medellin, Colombia)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 23 January 2024

Issue publication date: 3 June 2024




This paper aims to identify how the faculties of a Colombian University have understood the concept of sustainability and the way they have embedded it into their training.


Qualitative research was done using documentary and content analysis which allowed researchers to recognize features correlated to sustainability which are needed to promote and act for social equity, ecological care and economic development.


It was found that most faculties at the university do not conceptualize it; ergo, courses are designed neither for promoting sustainability nor sustainable education. Besides this, almost no level of integration was identified among faculties on this topic.

Research limitations/implications

Many people agree education for sustainability is a key action to overcome the complex challenges the planet is facing; nevertheless, the prejudice that training to solve sustainability problems is an exclusive task of certain disciplines is common. This misunderstanding reduces the possibilities of pursuing a sustainable future, considering that these issues affect all humankind and that they can only be solved through interdisciplinary and collaborative work.

Practical implications

The paper also outlines some actions that Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) can take to consider sustainability issues, and they are as follows: identification of competencies to include in the curricula; recognition of the potential of integrating education for sustainable development (ESD) into the curricula by strengthening the competencies and capacities; strengthening the competencies and capacities of the academic staff through ESD training processes; articulation of research with the curricula in such a way that the results of research processes permeate the curricula.

Social implications

This study has some limitations. For instance, regarding the survey, the size of the sample may seem too small, a bigger sample will allow better information for the results. Regarding the case studies, a greater diversity of programs could have provided a wider range of results. Despite these limitations, for UPB, the study shows a snapshot of the literature review and the articulation of sustainable development and climate change education (CCE) in all programs the university has. The implications of this paper and research are the following. First, it reiterates the importance of having within the same institution a common language to talk about sustainability. Second, it recognizes the competencies and skills that should considered when implementing ESD and CCE in curricula.


This idea corresponds to a lack of debate about what the term signifies and means. It is believed that, as sustainability has been highly researched in the past two decades, it is a cross-cutting element in any faculty proposal; however, due to the complexity of the term, it is understood differently by each member of the same academic community, affecting their ability to design a systemic and systematic curriculum that enables to educate for sustainable goals.



Builes-Vélez, A.E., Restrepo, J. and Martínez, J.D.D. (2024), "The significance of sustainability in higher education: a view to the curricular proposal at a Colombian University", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 943-961.



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