A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF STUDENT ACTORS FOR SUSTAINABILITY IN CANADIAN HIGHER EDUCATION
While higher education institutions (HEIs) work to incorporate sustainability within their policies and practices to alter behaviours of campus community members, there remains limited research on how student action contributes to sustainability in higher education (SHE). As the largest stakeholder group on campus, it is essential to understand how students support and drive institutional change for SHE, including what they identify as drivers and barriers to their actions. In response, this doctoral thesis reports on a portion of findings from a comparative study of six Canadian HEIs conducted by the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN). The SEPN project employed a multi-sited approach informed by critical policy studies and comparative case study methodologies. This thesis draws on data from semi-structured interviews, focus groups, research observations, and photo documentation. The thesis addresses a lack of comparative research investigating student leadership roles with SHE, including through a policy lens; as well as a gap in prior literature engaging social movement theory to better understand student action for SHE. Findings suggest that students can act as policy enactors, influencers, critics, and initiators. While this study indicates that students face challenges due to a lack of access to influence institutional policies, it also highlights that their actions can catalyze change by altering informal policy processes, including changing the campus culture of sustainability and ultimately how policy ideas are taken up across HEIs. This study also proposes that students create and mobilize social movement (SM) groups to advance SHE across campuses. These student-led groups were found to emerge despite lacking political opportunities, a condition broader SM groups required to emerge. Finally, this work calls for a closer examination of the cultural impacts of student-led action for SHE, including how their actions influence informal policy responses and the campus culture of sustainability.
student action, sustainability in higher education, policy studies, social movement theory
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
School of Environment and Sustainability
Environment and Sustainability