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How Higher Education Institutions Delegitimize Environmental Protection

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Are the higher education institutes of India to blame for the youth's apathy towards the climate?

Not Enough Ado About Environment by Meghna Gupta

Environmental issues are becoming increasingly essential as the world's population grows and lifestyles change. Higher education institutions may be the most effective means of resolving this problem. They have the ability to respond quickly to a variety of societal issues, particularly those related to the environment. Universities can provide environmental education through curricular design, research, and collaboration with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in such fields. Many academics and practitioners believe that education will bring us towards a sustainable global society. Regrettably, data suggests that our existing educational system may be achieving the exact opposite.

In order to rethink the curriculum in terms of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), higher education institutions must assess the content and teaching techniques. The content should include an understanding of the interrelationships between nature, the social environment, and human life-long activities so that students are prepared not only to analyse and find solutions to environmental problems but also to plan and implement problem-solving strategies in practice. According to some authors, a shift in education toward sustainability necessitates more than just introducing new disciplines; it also necessitates a fundamental shift in culture, as well as educational thinking and practice.

Observing the evolution of research topics, scientific contributions, and educational programmes reveals an increasing interest in promoting the ideals of social responsibility and sustainability. At the same time, factors that contribute to emphasising the importance of stakeholder engagement in the academic world are:

  • the need to improve labour market links

  • cultural globalisation

  • university competition

  • controlling the quality of teachers and services

  • national and international accreditation and evaluation processes

  • affirmation of the principles of transparency and accountability

However, until universities can effectively promote sustainable development on a global scale while also activating continuous adaptation/anticipation of changes in stakeholder expectations, it is critical that social responsibility principles and related sustainability goals inspire each university's governance culture and organisational behaviours.

University governance with a limited proclivity for social responsibility and sustainability, primarily focused on environmental issues, or simply incorporating sustainability issues into existing programmes, cannot be considered an efficient and exhaustive condition for promoting change and, above all, ensuring the optimization of value creation (economic, social, and environmental) for stakeholder groups. A university's vision, mission, purpose, and principal objectives are all addressed by governance policy. Disseminating all of the behaviours of a sustainability culture and developing proper systems of direct responsibility to all stakeholders are both required to turn the policy into actual results.

The notion of sustainability is only institutionalised when it is recognised and integrated into the university governance culture, and it gradually becomes part of the actions carried out. To put it another way, a socially responsible governance approach aims to improve the close interdependence between economic and social efficiency, optimise performance along the triple bottom line, and involve all management processes, from research and teaching to administrative and service activities, from top management to the entire organisation. This method is used in behaviours and internal communications, as well as external relationships and accountability. A skewed perspective on the topic will not result in a true change or a holistic approach to sustainable development.

Despite the involvement of a number of ESD programmes and universities in this process, these institutions remain traditional, relying on reductionist and mechanistic perspectives. One of the main and initial barriers to organisational change for sustainability in higher education is the need to recognise existing tensions and contradictions through reflexive practice and genuine dialogue, as well as developing flexible structures and moving towards "double loop" learning. A study showed that many HIEs had taken initial steps regarding sustainability and campus greening, but their general environmental quality was relatively poor, particularly when related to recycling. The findings of the interviews showed that the most significant barrier was budget restrictions in part due to a lack of knowledge about how green initiatives can minimise costs, followed by an institutional reluctance to change the barriers. Other issues mentioned by these authors included cultural change, the importance placed on sustainability, the lack of network cooperation between universities, government policies encouraging the implementation of education for sustainability and sustainable practices on campus, particularly the Ministry of Education, and a lack of staff and more experienced officers to implement and monitor these policies.

Without an education system that educates future leaders to make responsible decisions that positively contribute to economic viability, environmental integrity, and societal growth, the UN's SDGs are clearly ambitious and difficult to achieve. Universities that do not participate in issues related to the building of human and social capital will, without a doubt, fall behind. Being an inclusive, active contributor to this global cause is crucial if institutions want to continue at the top of their game. The research institutions and programmes of universities should be innovated and updated to fulfil the needs of sustainable development since the notion of sustainable development is very broad and comprehensive, as well as evolving and expanding.


Jadhav, A. (2014). Role of Higher Education Institutions in Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Development: A case study of Shivaji University, Maharashtra, India.

Salvioni, D. M., Franzoni, S., & Cassano, R. (2017). Sustainability in the Higher Education System: An Opportunity to Improve Quality and Image. Sustainability, 9(6), 914.

Taylor & Francis. Identifying and overcoming obstacles to the implementation of sustainable development at universities.

Remigijus Čiegis,. (2006). The Role of Universities in Promoting Sustainability. ISSN 1392–2785 ENGINEERING ECONOMICS. 2006. No 3 (48). Published.

Saeed, S., & Saeed, S. (September 17, 2019). Education for Sustainable Development and its Benefits to Your University. QS.

Are the higher education institutes of India to blame for the youth's apathy towards the climate?


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