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Applying SDGs as a systematic approach for incorporating sustainability in higher education

Abbas Rajabifard (Department of Infrastructure Engineering, The University of Melbourne , Melbourne, Australia)
Masoud Kahalimoghadam (Department of Infrastructure Engineering, The University of Melbourne , Melbourne, Australia)
Elisa Lumantarna (Department of Infrastructure Engineering, The University of Melbourne , Melbourne, Australia)
Nilupa Herath (Department of Infrastructure Engineering, The University of Melbourne , Melbourne, Australia)
Felix Kin Peng Hui (Department of Infrastructure Engineering, The University of Melbourne , Melbourne, Australia)
Zahra Assarkhaniki (Department of Infrastructure Engineering, The University of Melbourne , Melbourne, Australia)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 10 June 2021

Issue publication date: 30 August 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

The achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) for all communities and jurisdictions require a comprehensive roadmap that encompasses all dimensions of data infrastructure, social, economic, environmental and governance ecosystems. With this in mind, this paper aims to establish the link between the curriculum and intended learning outcomes of undergraduate and postgraduate subjects offered by the University and sustainability. This study is a part of a wider university strategy to embed sustainability knowledge and values in the university curricula. The 17 SDGs developed as a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainability Development was used as tool to measure and map how the subjects are linked with sustainability.

Design/methodology/approach

To incorporate sustainability into the curriculum, this paper developed an interdisciplinary approach for analysing the interconnection between the SDGs, the expected subject learning points and the relevant aspects of sustainability (geospatial information, the legal, policies and institutional components). As part of the approach, in the first phase of the study, qualitative data were collected through a review of published information on the SDGs and the content of the subjects available in the subject handbook. Subject codes were assigned to the keywords and key phrases extracted from the SDGs and the subject content, and then compared and matched to establish the link between the subjects and the SDGs. Six university schools offering over 2,157 subjects were investigated. In the second phase, a survey was conducted involving subject coordinators with the purpose of validating the findings of the first phase and determining the strength of the linkages between the subjects and the SDGs. In the third phase, a plugin was designed to be used in the digital twin platform developed in the UoM, allowing visualisation of the research outcomes.

Findings

Based on the interim findings, it was found that some subjects within the schools are linked to more than one SDG. However, not all of the subjects within the schools can be linked to the SDGs. There is a scope of improvement for embedding sustainability in more subjects within the schools. Some of the schools were also found to have weak linkages with sustainability, which demonstrate the challenge in technical subjects in linking their subject contents with sustainability.

Originality/value

This study provides a methodology which enables the integration of sustainability into current state of the curricula at the university to be established. Further, with the advancement of geospatial technology and new visualisation opportunities through the use of the digital twin platform provides capabilities to communicate the outcomes of sustainability and involvement of each faculties and departments more effectively to the university community and wider stakeholders.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge and thank the support and inputs of several groups for this sustainability project and research related to embedding sustainability into the curriculum. Firstly we acknowledge and thank the strategic and financial support of the Sustainability Fellowship Program commissioned by the University of Melbourne Chancellory. The support of the Faculty of Engineering and IT, and support of Department of Infrastructure Engineering at the UoM. Also, we would like to acknowledge the Centre for Spatial Data Infrastructures and Land Administration members, particularly Dr Yiqun Chen, Dr Behzad Rismanchi, and Mr Sharan Kumar Monikanta Rajan, for their support and technical inputs. However, the ideas and discussion in this paper are of the authors and do not reflect the views of these supporters.

Citation

Rajabifard, A., Kahalimoghadam, M., Lumantarna, E., Herath, N., Hui, F.K.P. and Assarkhaniki, Z. (2021), "Applying SDGs as a systematic approach for incorporating sustainability in higher education", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 22 No. 6, pp. 1266-1284. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-10-2020-0418

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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