Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education Rankings: Challenges and Opportunities for Developing Internationally Comparable Indicators

University of Twente

Publication Release Date: April 23, 2022
Date Posted: May 20, 2022
Submitted by: Lillian Makhoul
Sustainability Topics: Curriculum, Coordination & Planning
Content Type: Publications
Publisher: MDPI
Periodical Name: Sustainability
Type: Journal Article


As more higher education institutions strive to embed sustainable development principles in their teaching, it becomes increasingly important to identify indicators that can measure institutional contribution in a meaningful and internationally comparable manner. This paper shows that existing sustainability rankings, such as the UI Green Metric and THE Impact ranking, have paid relatively little attention to indicators on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). In a quest to develop such indicators for U-Multirank—the multi-dimensional transparency and ranking tool—we reviewed the literature, consulted experts, and ran a survey amongst practitioners. This article summarises opportunities and challenges for developing internationally comparable ESD indicators in the higher education sector, discussing indicator relevance, validity, and feasibility. The results suggest that (i) ESD indicators are considered highly relevant by diverse stakeholders; (ii) the majority of HEIs surveyed are planning to collect ESD data within 3 years, signalling good prospects for data feasibility; (iii) the ESD indicators proposed so far still lack criteria that would allow one to sufficiently identify and compare these indicators across countries, inhibiting indicator validity. At least three potential definitions are used by HEIs. The results of this paper can contribute to the discussion on identifying appropriate criteria for the development of ESD indicators and their use in international rankings.


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