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Key Publication

Lock-ins and opportunities for sustainability transition: a multi-level analysis of the Flemish higher education system

Written by Maarten Deleye, Thomas Block, Katrien Van Poeck.
Related to Sustainability Education, SEDwise.

Purpose: This study aims to provide an overview of sustainability in Flemish higher education (HE) by using the multi-level perspective (MLP) on sustainability transitions for a comprehensive empirical analysis of how sustainability is embedded in Flemish HE.

Design/methodology/approach: MLP was used as analytical framework to study the case and allow a focus on the interplay between innovative experiments in niche-practices, the characteristics of the prevailing regime (dominant structures, cultures and practices) and macro-trends at the landscape level. The data were collected through document analyses, surveys, in-depth interviews and a focus group. The empirical analysis was complemented with an extensive literature study.

Findings: In all, 9 landscape trends, 21 regime characteristics and 5 types of niches are identified. Furthermore, the multi-level analysis revealed 5 important lock-ins in the dominant regime that impede the upscaling of sustainable niches, 5 internal contradictions that destabilise the regime and can thus create windows of opportunity for niches to become viable alternatives and 16 opportunities for further embedding sustainability in HE.

Originality/value: The paper gives an original insight into the complexities of integrating sustainability in HE, highlights the important role of policy entrepreneurs to grasp emerging opportunities and offers them insight into how to create momentum and identify and fruitfully address windows of opportunity for a sustainability transition. It shows the potential and limits of the MLP for research on HE and outlines prospects for future research.

Full reference

Deleye, M., Van Poeck, K. & Block, T. (2019). A Multi-Level Analysis of the Higher Education System in Flanders. Lock-ins and Opportunities for Sustainability Transitions. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Special Issue on ‘The University as an Arena for Sustainability Transition’. Pre-published online:

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