Assessing sustainability in higher education curricula: A critical reflection on validity issues

University of Victoria, KU Leuven, Open University of the Netherlands

Publication Release Date: Jan. 20, 2018
Date Posted: Feb. 8, 2018
Submitted by: Jade Chalkley
Sustainability Topic: Curriculum
Content Type: Publications
Publisher: Elsevier Ltd.
Periodical Name: Journal of Cleaner Production
Type: Journal Article


While curricular assessments can give insight as to the extent sustainability is integrated into higher education study programs, issues remain regarding how assessments are conducted. Previous research has identified and compared various sustainability assessment tools for higher education, but there is a gap in the literature studying issues arising from measurement. This paper highlights the need for discussions on this topic by exploring validity issues arising from a case study and discusses the potential of utilizing a supplementary course file during curricular assessments. To achieve this objective, a KU Leuven Faculty of Economics and Business program has been assessed using two different approaches, namely 1) a scan of a European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) file and 2) an instructor self-assessment via a supplementary course file. Based on this research, these two approaches to curricular assessment yield substantially different results, which gives rise to the need to further consider the validity of such assessments. While utilizing an instructor self-assessment (e.g., a supplementary course file) during assessments can help overcome some potential shortcomings and biases of ECTS file scans, both approaches are flawed in assessing true sustainability integration into a program. The varying conceptualizations of sustainability and the lack of uniformly adopted assessment approaches has the potential to create validity issues with the assessment of sustainability in higher education. Acknowledging sustainable development as a contested concept, and developing a faculty-specific conceptualization, can help in approaching assessments in a meaningful way.