New article sets focus on empowerment of university educators to integrate sustainable development.
A new article published in the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education explores the role of empowerment in professional development processes of university educators. The article starts from the perspective of organizational change processes towards sustainability, with a focus on a variety of professional development initiatives on sustainability competences in Flanders (Belgium). More specifically, it describes how professional development needs to enable three essential constructs of empowerment, i.e.: authority, self-determination, and specialization.
This approach enables to frame professional development initiatives in a wider (organizational, societal) context, rather than stand-alone, individual activities. It furthermore provides answers to the many barriers towards change, described in the field of Higher Education for Sustainable Development, such as the lack of awareness and resistance against change. Ultimately, the article calls for an organizational and societal framing of professional development, as a prerequisite for successful empowerment of university educators, keeping in mind their academic freedom and self-determination.
The article is part of the Special Issue on professional development in Higher Education for Sustainable Development. This Special Issue is one of the outcomes of the European Erasmus Academic Network Project ‘University Educators for Sustainable Development’ (UE4SD). In the past three years (2013-2016), this project has successfully brought together 55 partners from 33 countries, resulting in clear guidelines and recommendations to reorient university curricula towards sustainability.
The structured abstract of the article is included below. Read the article on the website of the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, or download the PDF here.
Full reference of the article:
Lambrechts, W., Verhulst, E., & Rymenams, S. (2017). Professional development of sustainability competences in higher education: the role of empowerment. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education., 18 (5), 697-714. Open Access version – free download!
Purpose of this paper – This article aims to provide insights in the relation between professional development and organisational change processes towards sustainability, with a specific focus on empowerment.
Design/methodology/approach – The article builds upon a constructivist approach, combining a literature review, a desk research on key publications and reports, and a socio-political analysis to reveal the specific context in Flanders, Belgium. Findings are then connected to earlier insights from research on organisational change for sustainability.
Findings – The article provides a number of professional development initiatives that focus on sustainability in general and in a single higher education institution. Framing such initiatives as an organisational change process offers insights on how elements of empowerment are currently incorporated in professional development initiatives and how it can strengthen them to lead to the further integration of sustainability competences in higher education.
Research limitations/implications – Limitations are linked with the kind of sources used in the constructivist approach. The analysis only looks at written reports on the topic, albeit it also builds upon the first hand experiences of educators in the higher education institution focused upon in the case.
Practical implications – The need to frame professional development initiatives as an organisational change process towards sustainability with specific attention towards empowerment. Without this framing, professional development approaches comprise the risk of being left in the margins, or being understood as single initiatives without any connection to the bigger picture, i.e. the transition towards sustainability in higher education.
Social implications – Interlinking professional development and organisational change provides opportunities to frame the sustainability transition within the university in a wider societal context.
What is original/value of paper – The article provides an original contribution to the debate on sustainability competences, as it frames the professional development within an organisational context, rather than focusing on the individual role of educators.
competences, empowerment, higher education, human factors, professional development, sustainable development
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