The European Council[1] has confirmed that sustainable development is one of the main challenges in Europe and remains a fundamental objective of the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty.

  • Key documentation[2] from the EU acknowledges that education and learning play an important role to achieve sustainable development goals. They equip citizens with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to understand and deal with the challenges and complexities of sustainable development.
  • The potential of higher education in addressing sustainable development has been widely acknowledged internationally. This recognition is founded on the notion that universities improve the life chances of graduates and the communities they belong. They are recognised for their influence on policy directly, as well as indirectly, through the education of policy makers. They are influential in the development of leaders and future professionals.
  • A recent review of articles and experiences carried out by the Network suggests that universities are responding to the sustainability mandate and engaging in sustainability activities. There is evidence which demonstrates that universities have influenced campus management towards sustainability and reduced their carbon footprint. However, progress on the curriculum in relation to sustainability has been slow.
  • Re-orienting the curriculum towards sustainable development requires not just the inclusion of relevant subject matters and the pursuit of inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches, but also a pedagogy which engages the learner in challenging unsustainable development practices and models, understanding their professional responsibilities and creating alternative pathways for the future. This requires university educators who are motivated and capable of integrating sustainability in their teaching practice.
  • Research and practice in higher education has primarily focused on student rather than staff learning in the area of sustainability. A deeper understanding on how university educators develop ESD competences through professional development is required. The UNECE Competence Framework for Educators is a useful tool to understand which competences are needed to effectively embed sustainability in teaching and learning in higher education.
  • There is need to identify quality issues associated with ESD competences of educators in universities and provide guidance to enhance the university academic provision in the area of sustainable development.

[1] See: the 2007 Presidency Conclusions on the Commission Progress Report of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy and the 2009 Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy - Presidency Report – .

[2] See: the EU Sustainable Development Strategy; the Recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council of 18 December 2006; the Europe 2020 Strategy for Jobs and Growth; the strategic framework forEuropean Cooperation in Education and Training, “ET 2020”; andthe European Council Conclusions on Education for Sustainable Development.


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