Mapping higher education for sustainable development in Portugal

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Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) addresses sustainable development issues, in the economic, environmental, and social dimensions. The positive role of higher education institutions (HEIs), such as Universities and Polytechnic Institutes, in educating decision makers and leaders, and therefore contributing to progress and the public good, has been widely acknowledged. This investigation aims to map the BSc and MSc courses offered by Portuguese HEIs that address Sustainability (or Social Responsibility, or Ethics) in their curricula with the aim of proving their graduates with the right knowledge and competencies to overcome the Sustainable Development challenges. A systematic review utilizing a structured approach was used to analyze Portuguese HEIs BSc and MSc courses and the content analysis of their curricular units. The conclusions show that Sustainability (or Social Responsibility, or Ethics) is covered in most Social Sciences, Engineering, and Management, BSc and MSc courses, offered by the top 8 Portuguese Higher Education Institutions. However, ESD is fragmented by different approaches, issues, methodologies, and implications, lacking a consistent body of knowledge. Some courses focus more on the Social dimension, while others are more directed to the Environment or the Economic one. Sometimes the chosen approach is more normative (do what is right to do; the ethical way) and in other cases is more instrumental (do what is good for the business; the business case). Social Sciences, Engineering and Science, and Management and Economics are the three top clusters that address Sustainability related syllabus in their curricula, with 49 hours teaching hours in average for the curricular units covering Sustainability (with considerable variation). Universities have more curricular units addressing the topic while Polytechnic Institutes show a higher number of hours per curricular unit and most are of compulsory nature (while in Universities more than 50% of the curricular units are of optional nature). As the collected information was in some cases of generic nature, additional research should be used to confirm and detail these results and evaluate the effectiveness of this education to empower students to act as change agents for Sustainable Development. Benchmarking with other countries (e.g., from the European Union) is also an interesting avenue to pursue this investigation.

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Journal Information

CiteScore 2017: 0.45

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.169
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.436


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