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Challenges teaching Sustainable Development in higher education: A qualitative case study on how university teachers in Uppsala perceive the sustainable development concept
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Earth Sciences, Department of Earth Sciences.
2016 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

Abstract: The utility of the sustainable development concept, its various meanings and interpretations has long been debated. Although labeled as an abstract concept by many, it still plays a fundamental role in guiding the development of societies. In this thesis, teachers teaching sustainable development at university level are highlighted. University teachers´ understanding and communication of the sustainability concept play a central role of shaping the perceptions and developing skills of future academics, directly or indirectly working with sustainable development. The aim of this study is to: examine the perception of university teachers teaching sustainable development, in order to analyze and determine how they perceive and make use of the sustainable development concept in their teaching. The study applies a phenomenological approach using semi-structured interviews and theories from psychology when exploring the perceptions of university teachers from Uppsala University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.


When reviewing the results of the inductive thematic analysis and comparing it with previous perspectives and theories, various interesting findings were made. A majority of the teachers included in this study appears to be pulled towards the Limits to growth school of thought. Some of the teachers can also be argued to be in line with what can be labeled as Eco-socialism and Deep ecology. In general, the teachers perceive sustainable development as an abstract concept or an oxymoron and find the term Sustainability more useful. However, a majority of the teachers perceive strength and potential in the interpretative nature of the concept since it opens for an inclusion of values. By using the model of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior the study highlights several apparent challenges the teachers face when teaching sustainable development. For example, they highlight pedagogical issues connected to large and diverse groups of students with different academic backgrounds. Additional issues include a low sense of control in improving syllabuses and curriculums and teachers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences reported social norms contributing to tense atmospheres. The study concludes that one main challenge is the absence of a clear message regarding the sustainable development concept throughout courses and master programs.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. , 44 p.
Examensarbete vid Institutionen för geovetenskaper, ISSN 1650-6553 ; 286
Keyword [en]
Sustainable development, Perception, University teachers, Psychology, Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior model
National Category
Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-295617OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-295617DiVA: diva2:934192
Subject / course
Sustainable development
Educational program
Master Programme in Sustainable Development
, Geocentrum, Villavägen 16, Uppsala, Uppsala (English)
Available from: 2016-06-08 Created: 2016-06-08 Last updated: 2016-06-08Bibliographically approved

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