Uncovering perspectives on SDG integration for university transformations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Purpose: This case study explores different perspectives on integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in universities to achieve university transformations. This study recognises that university actors think differently about the purpose of universities, hold diverse perspectives on the SDGs, and, thus, prefer specific types of SDG integration. 

Design/methodology/approach: Using Q methodology, 29 participants from one university expressed their perspectives by sorting 50 statements covering different types of SDG integration. Statements were based on academic and grey literature on SDG integration in universities, and interviews with university actors from a previous study. After the sorting task, participants were interviewed to understand the reasons behind the placement of particular statements. 

Findings: The study identifies three perspectives held by the study participants. Perspective 1 emphasises the value of the SDGs and supports a deep integration of the Goals in their university. Perspective 1 also advocates for incorporating the SDGs into the university’s identity. Perspective 2 sees the university’s purpose as more comprehensive than the SDGs; thus, the university should develop knowledge regardless of its relevance to the SDGs. This perspective supports a pragmatic integration of the SDGs – favouring actions that benefit the university without introducing significant changes. Finally, Perspective 3 argues that the university should approach the SDGs through social justice and empowerment lenses. This perspective also questions the suitability of the SDGs for universities, arguing that the SDGs fail to challenge current structures underpinning the unsustainability of the world. 

Originality/value: Although previous studies have analysed diverse ways of understanding the SDGs in universities, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first to treat the SDGs as a governance framework of 17 goals and adopt a whole-institution approach to study universities.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Perspectives
  • Q Methodology
  • Sustainability

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