Call for papers


Detta temanummer om undervisning och lärande för hållbar utveckling i högre utbildning välkomnar bidrag som bygger på initiativ att främja lärande för hållbar utveckling genom att organisera högre utbildning på nya sätt. Bidrag kan exempelvis behandla följande ämnen: styrning och organisering av utbildning för att främja hållbar utveckling; pedagogiska former och lärandeaktiviteter som stödjer lärande för hållbar utveckling; exempel på fortbildning av lärare som syftar till att stärka kompetenser för att undervisa om/i hållbar utveckling. Vi välkomnar också bidrag som reflekterar kring särskilda erfarenheter av undervisning och lärande för hållbar utveckling – inklusive studenters bidrag. 

Call for papers for special issue: Education and learning for sustainable development in higher education

Guest editors: Cecilia Enberg & Ola Leifler, Linköping University

For the last months we have witnessed how an increasing number of students around the world have followed the example of the Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg as they have engaged in school strikes to put pressure on politicians and society at large to act against climate change and for a sustainable future. Why should they attend or care for school or participate in higher education to learn mathematics, economics, technology, political science or any other subject matters following a silo mentality when they know that the sustainability challenges we are facing, requires learning at the cross-roads of different disciplines? Why should they opt for education built on traditional pedagogy when they know that the sustainability challenges we are facing, require them to develop abilities and values that are not fostered by the kind of pedagogy used in most schools and higher education institutions today? We owe them an answer as research on education and learning for sustainable development asks us to organize higher education differently, teach differently and act differently.

About this special issue

For the last decades, higher education institutions have undergone what Maniates (2017:193) calls an “environmental revolution” consisting of the greening of campuses and the introduction of new academic programs focusing (primarily environmental) sustainability. Efforts have also been made to integrate learning for sustainable development into the curriculum of traditional academic programs and courses by a re-orientation towards “more innovative, whole-person, and experiential approaches that […] are challenging the fundamental assumptions that have underlain the entire history of mass education” (Dawson & Oliveira, 2017:208).

The first of those fundamental assumptions is reflected in how higher education is organized along disciplinary domains, which has contributed not only to increasing specialization but also to the creation of boundaries between disciplinary domains. Education and learning for sustainability however, “is per definition of an interdisciplinary, systemic and holistic nature” (Wals & Jickling, 2002:227). Addressing sustainability issues calls for education that is interdisciplinary, where fundamentally new approaches to problem-solving emerge as people join efforts and seek to combine competences in new ways (O’Brien et al., 2013). In collaborating to solve problems that span multiple dimensions, a systems thinking perspective which includes both ecological, social, economic and possibly other dimensions is necessary (Meadows, 2008). The teaching and learning for required to take on sustainability challenges must therefore not be restricted to traditional disciplinary content.

A second assumption is that higher education is based on value-free scientific understanding of the world and provides students with what is considered objective theories and tools for improving society. However, research on education and learning for sustainability points to the importance of transforming taken-for-granted assumptions about the scientific underpinnings of different disciplines and the values which they engender as it invites us to participate in a “deep debate about normative, ethical and spiritual convictions” (Wals & Jickling, 2002:288) and to design education in a way that fosters critical thinking and self-reflection (Wolrath Söderberg, 2018). There are many examples of what such transformation might entail, e.g. with respect to economics where Raworth (2018) questions the foundations of economics theory, suggesting that they have contributed to our unsustainable way of living and Farley (2017:249) advocates the need for “post-autistic economics”. Tainter (2016) points to increasing technical complexity as an important reason of social collapse, questioning the taken-for-granted view of technical development as being positive per se.

A third fundamental assumption in much higher education is that teachers act as disciplinary experts transmitting their knowledge (primarily cognitive and explicit) to students. However, learning for sustainability is often described as incorporating new pedagogical models where students become engaged as agents for change in a learning community (Dawson & Oliveira, 2017) instead of passive recipients of knowledge. Within learning communities, learning builds on experiences and emotions that are embodied and not only embrained and which are therefore better aimed at fostering the behavioral changes needed for acting sustainably. In many ways, this aligns with other calls for active, student-centered learning (c.f. Vare & Scott, 2007). In such learning communities, the role of the teacher changes from that of being an expert to that of becoming a facilitator and co-learner. In this new role, teachers need to develop new skills. UNECE (2012) describes a set of competencies related not only to a more holistic view on subject matters, but also to abilities such as envisioning change and achieve transformations. Teachers need to become both role models and facilitate students’ initiatives for change.

In sum, there is a tension between traditional modes of teaching and learning in higher education and sustainability, where Vare & Scott (2007) argue that sustainability challenges must be understood as fundamentally open-ended, without well-defined end states. On the one hand, we may require students to be capable of acting to enable positive changes towards a more sustainable development. On the other hand, they must be prepared to continually evaluate what they mean by desirable end states and renegotiate their understanding of current challenges. This means that higher education must be organized to offer interdisciplinary exchanges and possibilities to foster broad systems thinking. It must also use a wide range of pedagogical methods to foster normative and critical thinking competence as well as being participatory, empowering and locally relevant (E.g. UNESCO, 2017). Last, but not least, teachers in higher education need to develop new skills to master their new role.

Aim of special issue

Although most universities have yet to conduct fundamental transitions of their curricula or quality assurance frameworks, several higher education institutions have already addressed several challenges mentioned above. This special issue invites contributions building on any such initiatives and focusing a range of different aspect of education and learning for sustainable development in higher education. Those include, but are not limited to:

  • The organization, management and governance for education/learning for sustainable development within the higher education sector of the Nordic countries: e.g. goals to promote and assessment criteria to follow up various initiatives aimed at learning for sustainable development.
  • Learning goals, pedagogical forms for and learning activities related to competences for sustainable development: e.g. initiatives to increase critical thinking abilities, the questioning of basic assumptions of various disciplines or the fostering of values and ethics in relation to sustainable development.
  • Teacher training to promote learning for sustainable development: e.g. contributions focusing on the teachers’ role as a facilitator of student-centered learning for sustainable development or on teachers’ knowledge, attitudes, values and commitment to teaching for sustainable development.
  • Reflection papers which build on specific experiences of teaching and learning for sustainable development as well as students’ contributions. Such contributions can be related to e.g. students’ experiences of learning for sustainable development and/or engagement for sustainable development and the relationship of their engagement to teaching/learning for sustainable development.

We welcome both qualitative and quantitative studies, comparative studies and studies which reflect conditions specific to the systems of education in the Nordic countries and the conditions which it generates for education for sustainable development. You are welcome to contact us to discuss your ideas for making a submission or if you have any other questions related to this special issue:

Deadline full papers: October 15, 2019.

Please refer to the webpage of Högre Utbildning for more information about different types of contributions as well as information about how to make a submission.


  • Dawson, J. and Oliveira, H. (2017). Bringing the classroom back to life. In EarthEd. State of the World., pages 207–219. Island Press, Washington, DC, USA.
  • Farley, J. (2017). Bringing the earth back into economics. In EarthEd. State of the World. Island Press, Washington, DC, USA.
  • Maniates, M. (2017). Suddenly more than academic: Higher education for a post-growth world. In EarthEd. State of the World., pages 193–206. Island Press, Washington, DC, USA.
  • Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in Systems – A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • O’Brien, K. et al. (2013). You say you want a revolution? transforming education and capacity building in response to global change. Environmental Science & Policy, 28:48–59.
  • Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut Economics – Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Random House Business Books.
  • Tainter, J. A. (2006). Social complexity and sustainability. Ecological Complexity, 3(2):91 – 103.
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (2012). Learning for the future: Competences in education for sustainable development.
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (2017). Education for sustainable development goals – learning objectives.
  • Wals, A. E. and Jickling, B. (2002). “sustainability” in higher education: From doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning. International Journal of Sustain- ability in Higher Education, 3(2):221–232.
  • Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., and Redman, C. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, 6(2):203–218.
  • Wolrath Söderberg, M. (2017). Kritisk självreflektion i komplexa frågor: Att hjälpa studenterna att ta makten över sitt tänkande. Högre utbildning, 7(2):77–90.