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Sustainability in higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review

Crawford, J ORCID: 0000-0002-2191-6216 and Cifuentes-Faura, J 2022 , 'Sustainability in higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review' , Sustainability, vol. 14, no. 3 , pp. 1-11 , doi:

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created cause for rapid innovation in, reimagining of, and pivoting of higher education institutions. Prior to 2020, the global higher education sector began to radically focus their efforts on creating sustainable institutions, and incorporated the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The novel coronavirus pandemic may have changed that. This systematic review examines eight manuscripts, identified through a systematic search strategy on sustainability during the COVID-19 pandemic across 2020–2021. Interestingly, the low volume of manuscripts identified highlights potential learning and teaching risks, as priorities may have shifted during rapid digitalization and emergency remote teaching practices. These manuscripts focused on Goal 4, inclusive and equitable quality education (50%); Goal 8, decent work and economic growth; Goal 9, industry, innovation, and infrastructure (37.5%); and goal enabling through integrating and embedding sustainability into the curriculum (12.5%). The implications of this systematic review highlight a need to rebuild efforts to focus on the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly considering the evolving higher education landscape during COVID-19. While there were still considerable volumes of manuscripts on higher education and sustainability during 2020–2021, the lack of contextualization to current higher education conditions should be of concern for sustainability scholars. This systematic review creates a critical foundation for accelerating our understanding of achieving SDGs in higher education during and beyond the pandemic.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Crawford, J and Cifuentes-Faura, J
Keywords: United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, higher education, coronavirus, systematic review
Journal or Publication Title: Sustainability
Publisher: MDPIAG
ISSN: 2071-1050
DOI / ID Number:
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© 2022. The Authors. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License ( The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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