Towards symbiotic approaches between universities, sustainable development and cities


According to the perception of the sample on the current level of importance given to the relationship between their universities and city organizations on initiatives related to sustainable development, the most common context is cooperation in the framework of activities (39 %). For 45% of respondents, cooperation is a priority or top priority (23% and 12%, respectively), and for 26% of respondents, cooperation is among the most difficult circumstances, among a range of limited cooperations ( 24 %) at no interest (2%).

Figure 3 summarizes the three aspects dedicated to the analysis of the conditions of cooperation between universities and organizations in the city of the respondents: (a) the cooperation partners, (b) the type of cooperation and (c) the challenges that hinder cooperation.

picture 3

Cooperation partners, type of cooperation and barriers to cooperation (Source prepared by the authors).

Education and research institutions appear to be the most common sustainability partners, selected by 85% of respondents, followed by city government with 76% of respondents. Local businesses and NGOs made up 63% of the sample, while other partners (10% of respondents) include cooperatives, state and federal governments, international organizations (such as the United Nations), local communities and regional associations.

Collaboration through joint projects is the main strategy reported (85%), followed by joint events (68%) and student internships in organizations (61%). Other means of relationship mentioned include community engagement and service-learning activities, knowledge transfer or sustainable purchase agreements, memberships, research and teaching activities, guest lectures, technical reports and participation in municipal councils.

When it comes to challenges that hinder cooperative efforts on sustainability issues with city organizations, lack of time to invest in relationships was cited by 54% of the sample; lack of interest is also a worrying barrier, both from local counterparts (39%) and academics (26%). Lack of interest and lack of local contacts in cooperation for sustainable development do not seem to represent significant challenges according to the perception of the sample. On the other hand, lack of funding and resources accounted for 15% of the total sample; respondents listed several challenges, namely lack of skills to collaborate properly, lack of political will, existence of other more pressing issues, risk of corruption at political level impacting cooperation, greenwashing, complicated governance on local issues, and the excessive work of education and little integration and participation of society.

The examples of synergies shown in Table 1 illustrate the deep investment that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are willing to make in order to successfully intervene and inspire surrounding communities to reach a higher level of engagement. high in favor of sustainable development and the pursuit of the SDGs.

The University of the South of Santa Catarina, Brazil, is committed to acting as an engine of sustainable communities. Thus, the study by Amorim et al. 22, includes, among other reflections, a project developed in the State of Santa Catarina, the “Water Resources Plan of the Itapocu River Basin”. It is a partnership between the government, the University and the community, aimed at achieving sustainable collaborative management of the Itapocu basin and its water resources, reducing water losses and improving the savings, by combating the scarcity of water in the region. This example illustrates the importance of the actions implemented within the framework of the University to promote sustainable development in the region surrounding the campuses, with implications at the local and global level through investment in specific actions. which help to save money and achieve efficiency. in public resources, particularly in relation to the water resources stored in the aquifers of the Itapocu River Basin to be used to ensure water security in the region, with implications for the environment, for example flooding, and health, for example wastewater, of communities, resulting in a prolific symbiotic effort to advance sustainable development.

More than half of the sample reported a lack of time to invest in relationships. Withycombe Keeler et al. 23 emphasize that an individual relationship between the city, as well as the regions, and the university contributes to a better understanding of how places and contexts shape their sustainable transformation and how to learn from each other. Of the five case studies presented in Table 1, City-University Partnerships (CUPs), Withycombe Keeler et al. 23 found that co-creating a framework to help with diagnosis – gaps and synergies, strategy development, continuous learning and research, strategy transfer and scaling, fostered a common language in terms of goals, approaches and solutions in a systematic way for sustainability. Moreover, the framework represents a useful tool for continuous learning and transfer, supporting capacity building in the city, for example, joint research, joint projects and student experience. To enhance the effectiveness of CUP capacity building, Withycombe Keeler et al. 23 propose to invest in building bridges with students as interns in the city; a networking platform to elevate evidence and provide legitimacy; teaching and research activities to develop committed teams; building resilience in expertise and relationships; and a seamless flow of information.

As indicated by Iwaniec et al. 24, city planners and policy makers tend to focus on more easily applicable solutions to sustainability challenges, even if these require more thought and planning. This represents an opportunity for universities to collaborate, for example through joint events or projects, the most common types of cooperation. Additionally, the approach of establishing a governance committee with members from HEIs, industry and the community in the context of university towns 25 could also be useful in broader contexts, as a strategy to foster symbiotic collaborations between universities and cities to promote sustainable development. This strategy could be useful in overcoming the most common challenges of lack of time and interest in these relationships, as responsibilities and resources could be shared, ensuring that the management of sustainable development solutions to be implemented in practice , in addition to being both pro-environmental and pro-social, are beneficial to the stakeholders involved 33.


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