BORIS Theses

BORIS Theses
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Learning for Sustainable Development in Higher Education and Beyond: Finding and Shaping Transformative Spaces

Trechsel, Lilian Julia (2021). Learning for Sustainable Development in Higher Education and Beyond: Finding and Shaping Transformative Spaces. (Thesis). Universität Bern, Bern

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What role can higher education institutions (HE ls) play in tackling the urgent sustainability challenges we currently face locally and globally? Education is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, key to the success of all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and seen as a crucial lever for transformation. From the perspective of the 2030 Agenda, it is essential to ensure that universities provide conditions for teaching and learning that make education for sustainable development (ESD) possible. HEls are increasingly committing to sustainable development (SD) as part of their overall mission. However, they often approach SD sectorally and fail to establish a mutual dialogue with important policy actors. Using a mixed-methods approach focused on in-depth qualitative interview data and the quantitative results of a tracer study, this dissertation investigates how HEls can redefine their education mission and learn from the experiences of students and HEI staff in order to contribute to societal transformation towards SD. Approaching the topic from a theory-of-change perspective, the research includes an impact chain of SD integration in HEls, which provides the conceptual framework for the dissertation. First, the dissertation begins by presenting the results of an analysis of the University of Bern's strategy to mainstream SD. Here, it highlights the importance of rethinking institutional structures in order to motivate lecturers to engage with SD and to provide them with opportunities to find links between their discipline and SD. Second, it analyses a tracer study of international PhD alumni, many of whom went on to work in academia following graduation. In analysing the students' experiences, the study sheds light on the inequalities of tertiary education and unequal career trajectories more broadly, which tend to marginalize the global South while strengthening Northern (Western) universities. It calls for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary educational programmes that facilitate safe and innovative learning spaces in which students from all parts of the world are brought together, exchange and capacity development are supported, and opportunities for trainers and network building are provided. The study proposes to enhance academic metrics that emphasize experience, research quality, and societal contributions over journal impact factors. Third, the dissertation explores the experience of Swiss students who build bridges between science and society in the context of student-led projects. Here, the research examines settings and spaces where formal and non-formal learning meet, listening to the voices of students who act as "boundary agents" between science and society, learning from their personal experiences, and relating the results to current debates on ESD, transformative learning, and the SD strategies of HEls. The research contained in this dissertation calls on HEls to expand and reflect on their understanding of education and learning in order to overcome detrimental gaps between science and society. The corresponding studies encourage HEls to increase their awareness and reflect on their own olicies and structures, respond to students' wishes regarding SD, acknowledge the opportunities opened up by students' learning paths, and rethink research settings and career pathways by confronting global power issues. To this end, HEls should provide safe spaces for learning and conceive of their education mission in a (more) holistic way- in line with a "whole institution approach" - enabling all actors involved to view themselves as learners who must consider changing their mindset and engaging with the challenges of societal transformation.

Item Type: Thesis
Dissertation Type: Cumulative
Date of Defense: 2 December 2021
Subjects: 300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 370 Education
900 History > 910 Geography & travel
Institute / Center: 08 Faculty of Science
10 Strategic Research Centers > Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)
Depositing User: Hammer Igor
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2023 12:21
Last Modified: 09 Oct 2023 22:25

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