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The nexus between gender and sustainability in Western Australian Higher Education (HE): The perfect storm for change and innovation to create a 'SHE' sector

Watkins, Annette J (2018) The nexus between gender and sustainability in Western Australian Higher Education (HE): The perfect storm for change and innovation to create a 'SHE' sector. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This ethnographic enquiry investigates gender as the missing link to progressing sustainability within the Higher Education (HE) sector. I explore sustainability practices, attitudes and values within four Western Australian public universities in search for a Sustainable Higher Education (SHE) sector. I explore diversity, equity, inclusion and futurity and the importance of universities in nurturing these ambitions to create sustainable working communities. I propose reconfiguration of gendered social relations within HE to achieve sustainability (Deem 2003:2008). Universities’ transition to sustainability involves all areas of activity — learning, teaching, decision-making and research — but sustainability in HE is not only what is done in each area, but also how it is done (Moore 2005). A glass ceiling exists not just for gender but for sustainability (Buzzanell 1995; Gonzalez et al. 2015).

Priorities and external influences have a direct impact upon the way universities address sustainability. I propose the sector’s responses have led to gender-based decision-making that does not prioritise sustainability. Further, in the face of environmental crisis, social disruption and economic myopia, education needs to transform (Carson 1962; Orr 2002; Giroux 2017). I argue that labour conditions in the entrepreneurial university and rationalist problem-solving, together with technological fixes and market-oriented instrumentalism, have changed relationships between the HE sector, public, student, administrator, and academic in ways that are gendered — resulting in changes to how we work, study and live.

The capitalist purpose of the sector is defined by ‘rules of the game’ (Ortner 1996). I have adopted a multi-disciplinary approach drawing from education, business, sustainability, and feminism (Plumwood 2002; Acker 2006; Farley & Smith 2013; Fitzsimmons 2014). In drawing on these approaches, I propose universities not only have an environmental responsibility due to the size of their own ecological footprint, but also a social responsibility given they are influential in shaping future leaders.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School Of Business and Governance
United Nations SDGs: Goal 4: Quality Education
Goal 5: Gender Equality
Supervisor(s): Brueckner, Martin and Reid, Anja
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