Higher education for sustainable development: a systematic review

Yen Chun Jim Wu, Ju Peng Shen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

118 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: This study aims to provide a complete understanding of academic research into higher education for sustainable development (HESD). Design/methodology/approach: This study utilizes a systematic review of four scientific literature databases to outline topics of research during the UN’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). Findings: This study compares research trends and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO’s) strategic perspectives, worldwide topics and the number of studies. The results show that the research trends did not match UNESCO’s perspectives well and that researchers’ focus on popular events led to the variation between the numbers of articles each year. In summary, the findings indicate that most researchers base their topics on environmental issues, and research trends indicate the need for the integration of HESD. Practical implications: This study provides a systematic review of higher education for academic research into sustainability, and it has implications for researchers and educators by identifying the gaps between the research conducted and the UN’s policies during the DESD. Originality/value: This study attempts to offer an integrated view of HESD and to understand the bias of research trends during the DESD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-651
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Concept
  • Curriculum
  • Higher education
  • Sustainability
  • Systematic reviews
  • Teaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Education


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