Education research has acknowledged the value of transformation, which offers an opportunity for researching and rethinking how appropriate and successful educational practices may be. However, despite the role of transformation in higher education and particularly in sustainability learning, there is a paucity of studies which examine the extent to which transformation and learning on matters related to sustainable development may be integrated. Based on this perceived research need, the purpose of this article is to present how transformation in learning in education for sustainability requires the commitment of Faculty and the engament of students. To do this, a set of qualitative case studies were used in higher education institutions across seven countries (Brazil, Serbia, Latvia, South Africa, Spain, Syria, UK). The findings revealed that the concept of education for sustainable development has not been sufficiently integrated into the concept of transformation in higher education institutions. It also found that to enhance sustainability in the curricula, academics should develop collaborative approaches, and discuss how to redesign their own disciplines, and how to appreciate the epistemology and multicultural vision of sustainability, both as a topic, and as a field of education research. It was further found that reflections of the academics on their own values are crucial for developing the transformative potential of students as agents of a sustainable future. It is necessary that universities should transform to serve as models of social justice and environmental stewardship, and to foster sustainability learning.
Introduction: the Role of Transformation in Learning and Education for Sustainability
Transformation in learning in education for sustainability requires the commitment of faculty and academics. With their efforts, motivation and innovative ideas, change in content and methods can materialise. Examples of whole curriculum reform and its reorientation towards sustainability are relatively limited (Von Blottnitz, Case & Fraser, 2015). It is worth highlighting that in HEI there is often no adequate institutional support and incentives for those academics willing to integrate SD in their activities (Hoover & Harder, 2014), and most of the efforts lie primarily on overcommitted academics (Krizek, Newport, White & Townsend, 2012). This implies that different perceptions and personal approaches to sustainability are integrated in these stand-alone courses, often with pedagogies not entirely appropriated to SD principles. Nonetheless, openness for interpretive flexibility and variations in practice have been indicated as essential to SD integration in a university context (Sammalisto, Sundström & Holm, 2015). Furthermore, the combination of both strategies (whole curriculum reform and individual specialized courses) have been indicated as beneficial for embedding SD in Higher Educational Institutions (HEI) (Mulder, Segalàs & Ferrer‐Balas, 2012). The first debates about sustainability focused on the adoption of critical thinking based in the dynamic equilibrium between the economic, social and environmental spheres to create a better future (Elkington, 1998, Capozucca & Sarni, 2012; Kumar, Gunasekaran, Singh, Papadopoulos & Dubey, 2015; Shnayder, van Rijnsoever & Hekkert, 2016). In recent years, however, different authors emphasise the need to integrate non-traditional aspects of sustainability in the discourse.