Sustainable higher education institutions: sustainable development challenges of portuguese higher education institutions

Ana Marta Aleixo

    Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral Thesis


    This doctoral study explores higher education institutions and their role in fostering sustainability by assessing the perceptions of stakeholders, namely organization leaders. The aims of this research are to assess the importance and responsibility of higher education institutions in the fostering of sustainable development, to identify the barriers faced and challenges to overcome as these also affect their sustainability as teaching institutions, and to analyze the current state of the implementation of sustainability in Portuguese higher education institutions. The empirical study was undertaken in three studies (and organized in four papers). The first analyzed sustainability practices with information collected from the institutions' websites; the second continued the study with a qualitative approach by interviewing the organization leaders and stakeholders, at four Portuguese higher education institutions; and the last took a quantitative approach by examining the implementation of sustainability practice using data obtained from a questionnaire sent to all the Portuguese public higher education institutions. The research demonstrates that sustainability studies in Portuguese public higher education institutions are still scarce, and that higher education institutions are in an embryonic phase of implementing, incorporating and institutionalizing sustainability strategies, measures and policies in all their activities and dimensions. There is clear evidence that higher education institutions play an important role in the promotion of sustainability. However, the lack of financial resources is perceived as the main barriers to sustainability in these institutions. This study clearly demonstrates that although sustainable development is recognized as being very important to higher education institutions and society, it is not yet embedded in the system's strategies, activities, and policies. It is essential to identify sustainability strategies and to introduce sustainable development in all activities, through a “top down” process and involving all stakeholders. Finally, not only does the research identify the importance of a conceptual and organizational change in higher education institutions, but it also contributes to the literature on sustainable higher education institutions, as well as to how higher education for sustainable development is understood and can be improved, namely in the Portuguese higher education system.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Aberta University
    • Azeiteiro, Ulisses M., Supervisor, External person
    • Leal, Susana, Supervisor, External person
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2017


    • Higher Education for Sustainable Development
    • Sustainability
    • United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
    • Implementation of Sustainable Development
    • Portuguese Higher Education Institutions


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