Higher Education Policy

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 491–511 | Cite as

Sustainability Governance at Universities: Using a Governance Equalizer as a Research Heuristic

  • Mara BauerEmail author
  • Inka Bormann
  • Benjamin Kummer
  • Sebastian Niedlich
  • Marco Rieckmann
Original Article


Universities play a crucial role in promoting sustainable development. Accordingly, the project “Sustainability at Higher Education Institutions: develop — network — report (HOCHN)” (2016–2018) aims to facilitate sustainable development at universities in Germany. One of the project’s research focuses is sustainability governance. It investigates the variety of different protagonists and structures that are involved in the processes of developing and managing sustainability. To this end, a heuristic technique referred to as the “governance equalizer” is applied. It covers five dimensions that have been adapted for this research: politics, profession, organisation, knowledge and visibility. This paper introduces the concept of the governance equalizer and locates it in the context of sustainability in higher education institutions. Against this backdrop, it presents and discusses findings from preparatory expert interviews on sustainability governance, with the aim of validating the governance equalizer and identifying focal points for subsequent stakeholder interviews in German universities.


sustainable universities sustainability governance governance heuristics interviews literature research 



The authors would like to thank the editors and reviewers for their constructive comments, feedback and recommendations relating to an earlier draft of the article. Furthermore, the authors would like to acknowledge the active participation of all the partners in the HOCHN project.


The HOCHN project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) from 11/2016 to 10/2018 under No. FKZ13NKE007A and is linked to existing results from the BMBF-framework FONA (research for sustainable development) and the BMBF-initiative “sustainability in science” (SISI).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.


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Copyright information

© International Association of Universities 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mara Bauer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Inka Bormann
    • 2
  • Benjamin Kummer
    • 2
  • Sebastian Niedlich
    • 2
  • Marco Rieckmann
    • 1
  1. 1.Universität VechtaVechtaGermany
  2. 2.Freie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany

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