Sustainability in African higher education institutions (HEIs): Shifting the focus from researching the gaps to existing activities

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Nico Ulmer
  • Kerstin Wydra

Purpose: Research on sustainability in higher education institutions (HEIs) is unequally distributed globally. The existing publications on sustainability in HEIs have largely focussed on the Global North. Meanwhile, little is known about the state of sustainability in HEIs located in the Global South, and within African HEIs in particular. This study aims to fill this gap and investigates the status of sustainability activities in participating African HEIs. Design/methodology/approach: A Delphi study involving 32 experts from 16 African countries and a total of 29 HEIs was conducted between December 2017 and May 2018. Experts were asked to share their insights on sustainability and Africanisation through an online questionnaire in two rounds. Findings: Although 30 of the 32 participants agreed with the provided definitions of sustainability and sustainable development (two participants did not answer), 11 of the participants commented that important issues such as governance and culture were missing. This trend indicates that the sustainability discussion is still led from a western vantage point. Nevertheless, Africanisation plays a role in around two-thirds of participating HEIs’ sustainability activities, with the language factor representing the most pressing issue. Research limitations/implications: The findings of this study provide valuable insights into the current state of sustainability activities and Africanisation of participating African HEIs, and the importance of language and culture in this process. Originality/value: This study is one of few works that have investigated the state of sustainability activities in African HEIs. Furthermore, it adopts a positive stance on sustainability in Africa, rather than focussing on negative circumstances.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)18-33
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 09.01.2020