"Sustainability means thinking and acting beyond how things affect you personally to see the big picture."1 This may seem like a commonplace, but it is anything but trivial in the context of sustainable development in higher education. After all, the goal is to understand how we as individuals and institutions are affected while broadening our disciplines and vision of sustainability and spheres of influence.
As part of society, higher education institutions play a special role in sustainable development. They educate future generations of leaders, experts, and teachers (ideally as agents of change), examine how the world can be made more sustainable, and are responsible as organizations for setting a good example.
In November 2016, eleven German higher education institutions initiated the research alliance project HOCHN to conduct application-oriented research in the following areas:
- sustainability reporting
- university governance
Each area is being researched in tandem by two higher education institutions. Results are compiled and integrated at regular joint events. Open learning processes focus on networking, consulting with peers, sharing experiences and knowledge, and testing various collaboration methods. The university alliance is supported by an international expert advisory board which also consists of other people and institutions with vested interests in the higher education landscape, including student sustainability initiatives.
The findings, good practice examples, and case studies are incorporated thematically into guidelines for the sustainable development of higher education institutions. These are intended to provide the research alliance and as many other higher education institutions as possible with some orientation in fostering sustainability. Based on a shared understanding of sustainability and transformation, the research alliance is seeking to expand the network by another one hundred higher education institutions within the project's running time of two years.
Sustainable development means thinking globally. Efforts to achieve greater sustainability in the higher education landscape such as those associated with HOCHN are therefore closely linked to international alliances as well.
The project is scheduled to run for two years (1 November 2016 through 31 October 2018). Universität Hamburg's Center for a Sustainable University (KNU) is responsible for managing the research alliance and coordinating the overall project. Other higher education institutions seeking to pursue sustainability are cordially invited to join the HOCHN network.
1 Source: Meilensteine der Nachhaltigkeitspolitik: Weiterentwicklung der nationalen Nachhaltigkeitsstrategie (strategy paper on sustainability, in German only), German federal government 2014, p. 7