Flemish Government – Environment, Nature and Energy Department
The aim of this paper is to stimulate the debate about higher education as a (potential) major catalyst towards sustainable development. Reviewing the contemporary literature related to sustainable development and higher education we want to understand better this role as (potential) catalyst and move Flemish higher education forward in its sustainability transition. It should be noted that while this paper will provide a broad understanding of the literature, it is beyond its scope to deal with each aspect in full depth. Interested readers are therefore encouraged to use the cited literature in this paper as a source to guide them in a more in-depth examination of the literature.
What we aim at is to provide points of reference for various higher education stakeholders, institutions and individuals by dealing with four crucial questions:
1) what is sustainable development about?
2) how to conceive the role of higher education in sustainable development?
3) what are the key aspects of sustainable higher education?
4) what are the major barriers and ways forward in moving Flemish higher education in a (more) sustainable direction?
Higher education is generally seen as a major (potential) catalyst towards sustainable development, in particular through its traditional missions of education, research and public service [2-4]. During the last two decades higher education institutions worldwide have implemented various sustainable development initiatives. In Flanders for example, most universities have signed the COPERNICUS Charter which dedicates universities to becoming leaders in SD through their various activities, including research, education, public service and campus operations. There have been numerous other sustainability initiatives at the institutional level in Flanders, and some regional overarching ones have been undertaken (for example “Ecocampus”, “Fenix”, “Sociale Economie op de Campus” and “Duurzaam Hoger Onderwijs Vlaanderen”) .
Ecocampus, currently in its second term, is a project of the Environment, Nature and Energy Department of the Flemish Government that aims to catalyze the implementation of environmental management and SD in Flemish higher education. In support of this objective, Ecocampus initiated a participatory process in 2012 (“Sustainable Higher Education – Beyond Knowledge” or in Dutch “Duurzaam Hoger Onderwijs – De Kennis Voorbij”) involving different stakeholders such as the higher education sector itself and other policy areas . This paper is part of that process.