Camilla Wikström-Grotell & Carina Kiukas
Universities all over the world are rethinking their role considering the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 (UNESCO 2020, 2021). Higher education should prepare students to find solutions to challenges of today and the future, including climate change, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, poverty and inequality (UNESCO 2014; 2021). The need to solve the common global challenges at a systemic level in a collaborative, equitable and culturally sensitive way naturally connects Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) with a global view on education and responsibility for both global and local societal problems. (see e.g. Glavic 2020; Gregersen-Hermans 2021; Tilbury 2011)
Since it is a matter of taking responsibility for society on a collective level, it is interesting to look at how this responsibility appears in governing documents. Therefore, the purpose of a pilot study (Ståhl, Kiukas, Wikström-Grotell 2022), which was part of the KESTO project (https://www.haaga-helia.fi/en/current/projects/kesto), was to explore how higher education institutions’ governing documents (strategies and agreements with the Ministry for culture and education (EduMin) make the higher education institutions’ ambitions regarding sustainable development visible. The universities explored were the partners of the KESTO project: Universities of applied sciences Arcada and Haaga-Helia (H-H) as well as the University of Jyväskylä (JYU), the University of Tampere (TUNI) and the University of Eastern Finland (UEF).
The questions were:
- How are the different dimensions of sustainable development made visible in the universities’ strategy documents and their agreements with EduMin?
- What core concepts emerge from the governing documents in the form of sustainability-related meaningful keywords?
Our pilot study which was based on an earlier study (see Kiukas, Tigerstedt & Wikström-Grotell 2017) followed the overall principles for a thematic, qualitative content analysis (Bryman, 2008) and whole sentences were used as units of analysis. In the first part of the analysis, the analysis units were categorized into sustainability dimensions using two different frames of reference. A broad view was chosen as the goals for sustainable development are based on the premise that societal change must ensure the possibility of a good life for current and future generations. Thus the biological and social environment, people and the economy should be taken into account equally when decisions are made. We examined sustainable development in the governing documents based on the three dimensions of sustainable development United Nations Agenda 2030: the ecological, economic and social (UN, 2015; UNESCO, 2021).
The cultural sustainability dimension (UNESCO, 2021; Nurse, 2006), which encompasses languages and traditions as well as diversity and accepting and respecting the rights of all individuals, was also included. In parallel with the UN / UNESCO established frame of reference with its four dimensions, we have applied as a complementary frame of reference the Canadian researcher Trevor Hancock’s (2001; 2020) reasoning about the ecological determinants of health. Hancock has advocated for a healthier and more sustainable society and recalls that economic aspects alone should not dictate the development of humanity if they do not meet the social needs that exist.
The thinking is based on respect for ecological limitations and a striving for well-being for all. The reasoning is based on criticism of a narrow focus on economic growth and the fact that economic arguments often guide decisions about well-being and health, but also in other areas. Thus, according to Hancock, in addition to financial capital, three additional forms of capital need to be considered: ecological, social and human. A special added value in Hancock’s dimensions lies in the fact that they open up for examination on an additional level, namely whether the generation of one kind of capital eats away at any of the other capital.
Various dimensions of sustainability in higher education governing documents
Within the different dimensions, there are differences between the universities to varying degrees (Table 1). The financial and ecological dimensions were generally emphasized rather low in all universities while the differences in the social and humane / cultural sustainability dimensions are most evident. The social dimension was emphasized in between 33 and 90% of the units of analysis, or in terms of social capital, in between 67 and 91%. Regarding the cultural dimension, the difference was also large (38–91%). In terms of human capital, the range was between 36 and 71%. The number of analysis units (sentences) varied greatly so that Arcada and Haaga-Helia were at the same level with 52 and 53 analysis units, respectively, the universities in Jyväskylä and Eastern Finland were in the middle position with 80 and 82 analysis units, respectively, while Tampere University topped with 103 analysis units. Since the number of analysis units varied, it was justified not only to focus on how many analysis units the different sustainability dimensions occurred, but also to examine the proportion in which the sustainability dimensions occur in each university’s analysis units. Table 1 presents both the number of occurrences and the proportion in which they occurred in the analysis units in each university’s governing document.
Table 1. Presence of the different sustainability dimensions in the analysis units taken from the governing documents
|University / UAS |
|Financial||Environmental||Social||Cultural||Financial capital||Human capital||Social capital||Ecological/ natural capital|
|Jyväskylä University %||8%||11%||33%||88%||4%||66%||88%||4%|
|Tampere University %||8%||12%||78%||44%||5%||36%||67%||11%|
|University of Eastern Finland %||6%||12%||90%||38%||5%||51%||89%||12%|
In part two, keywords describing sustainable development were selected from the analysis units to further describe the core content and to explore the extent to which the core content reflects a sustainability perspective.
As the text focuses on governing documents, it is of particular interest to examine the use of keywords related to sustainable development, i.e. Sustainable (development), Responsibility, Ecolocical and Environmental. The analysis shows quite large differences between the universities (Table 2):
|Key words (sustainability)||Arcada UAS||Haaga-Helia UAS||Jyväskylä University||Tampere University||University of Eastern Finland|
|All key words||126||76||131||182||163|
Looking at the numbers, the compilation suggests that Universities of applied sciences (UAS) would emphasize sustainability to a lesser extent than universities. If, on the other hand, the number of ”sustainability keywords” is examined in relation to all the university’s keywords, Jyväskylä University stands out with a larger proportion than the others. The picture can be further clarified by including the contexts in which these keywords appeared in the analysis (see Ståhl, Kiukas & Wikström-Grotell, 2022, pp.11-13).
Among all the keywords, Research [tutkimus] is by far the most common and occurs at all five universities among the top five. The associated Science [tiede], on the other hand, is mentioned in the traditional universities but not in the UAS. In the lead are also International and Competence, both of which occurred in all five universities but in the lead in four of them. Learning was in the lead in three universities but also in the other two in the form Continuous learning, Life-long learning. Education, Development, Sustainable, Digital, Student and Society occurred in several or all universities but in varying positions.
The analysis of all keywords shows both similarities and differences between universities. The keywords are placed slightly differently in ranking, which can be seen as an expression of different emphasis and profiling for each university. It is obvious that a watertight ranking is challenging as some keywords occur in the lead in perhaps three universities, while other keywords occur in all five universities but in very different positions. The keywords provide only a limited picture of the whole, as they must be understood in their context, but they provided a possibility to compare core content and profiles.
The analysis results provide a picture of how organizations in higher education express themselves in relation to sustainable development. In addition, the analysis can provide an idea of how individual institutions profile themselves in relation to sustainable development in two for the future development of higher education central governing documents.
Based on this analysis, however, no conclusions can be drawn about what the consequences are in relation to the pedagogical practices at each higher education institution. Nor can conclusions be drawn in relation to educations that are realized and the learning outcomes that the studies according to the study plans are expected to lead to in the student.
Only when graduated professionals can act in their professional pursuits for sustainable development has higher education succeeded in exploiting the potential that exists to contribute to sustainable societal development and enable a good life for all. As initially stated, higher education has a given role and a clear mission in relation to sustainable development and the goals set by the UN in Agenda 2030. The mission of the program is generally to give people of different ages the opportunity to take responsibility for creating a sustainable future. The mission of higher education is also to take an ethical responsibility for the future development of society.
Camilla Wikström-Grotell, PhD Health Sciences, Academic Partnerships, Vice Dean, School of graduate education and research, Arcada UAS, cwg(at)arcada.fi
Carina Kiukas, PhD Adult Education, Dean, School of Engineering, Culture and Well-being, Arcada UAS, carina.kiukas(at)arcada.fi
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