Sustainable Development and Universities: Institutionalising Sustainable Development into University Curricula: Setbacks

By | February 13, 2015

This is the 2nd article in the series of 4 by Sorina Antonescu. See overview of articles here >>

  1.       HEIs and the greater society: where do they stand?

It is a truth universally acknowledged amongst our government representatives, economists and the mainstream media that we’re living in a time of austerity characterised by economic, social and political shortcomings. Yet, universities are seen as defiant relative to the current state of the world.

At first sight, HEIs seem to thrive; new institutions are being founded and student numbers applying for university courses are constantly on the rise; they are major local and national employers, and governments in developed and developing countries alike deem them crucial in the strive for wealth creation and GDP growth. Only a relatively few existing sources on the other hand, strive to question the fundamental role universities play in the societies that they represent. Any voices outlining the contrary, namely, that universities are in a state of crisis is seen as a notion lining on the verge of the absurd (Cullingford, 2004).



The rise of science parks on university premises and their expanding industrial links, particularly as part of their curricula and research operations, stand as testimony to the fundamental role universities play in the modern economy. At the same time, HEIs are increasingly subject to external control and government interference. In this context, it becomes imperative to ask whether the prevalent competition between universities at the level of funding and research operations, or the fact that increasingly, they are subject to external influence, has had any impact on the foundational role of a university from which stems their their ability to challenge dominant societal trends. While the points discussed so far seem to contradict any suggestion that there is a need to re-assess the role of HEIs in the modern world, it is worth prodding into their past, and touch on some of the values that a university stood for in times preceding our own.

Historically, the role of HEIs has been to challenge the dominant issues of their times such as religious, socio-cultural, or science-related. At the same time, earlier generations were centred on answering profound questions. These centred on the pursuit of knowledge for a better understanding of the surrounding world and the power of natural elements, at a time when technological breakthroughs had yet to take advent. The purpose of scholarship was to not so much the acquisition of knowledge per se, but rather reaching the core of a problem and the subsequent attempt at finding ways to solve it (Blewitt and Cullingford, 2004; Cortese, 2003; Lozano, 2011; Davis, 2003; Lozano et al., 2011).  Read more >>