An interpretive analysis of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in Hong Kong public universities

Jae Hyung PARK, Tamara SAVELYEVA

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7 Citations (Scopus)


This study in the research domain of higher education sustainability addresses issues of policy and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in and through Hong Kong public universities. The purpose of the study was to critically analyze the problématique of achieving the SDGs by the Hong Kong higher education sector. The study used a post-empiricist qualitative design with Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis and an embedded case study methodology in order to explore the issues of the SDGs policy and implementation in eight public Hong Kong universities. The concept of sustainability ensoulment and the Higher Education Institution Sustainability Model served as a theoretical grounding for the interpretative analysis. The interpretive results showed a broad range of university responses and governmental support for SDGs despite small number of universities, and a score of authentic SDGs-related efforts, which were fully embedded into the educational mission of the universities. The essence from the interpretive analysis of the data suggests that the universities’ authentic attainment of the SDGs requires a ‘salutary detachment’ from putting excessive priorities on superficial sustainability standards and considering universities’ global ranking league tables as their principal goal. The study provides a structured discussion within five thematic areas: (1) regional-dominant sustainability challenges; (2) financing structure and independence; (3) institutional organization; (4) extent of democratic processes; and (5) communication and interaction with society. The research argues that a genuine SDGs attainment originates from what universities know best and regard as their threefold mission—research, teaching and knowledge transfer—to effectively generate global citizens with full ensoulment of the SDGs spirit and values, and thus, turning universities into authentically sustainable institutions. Copyright © 2022 Education Research Institute, Seoul National University.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-558
JournalAsia Pacific Education Review
Issue number4
Early online dateSept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


Park, J., & Savelyeva, T. (2022). An interpretive analysis of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in Hong Kong public universities. Asia Pacific Education Review, 23(4), 543-558. doi: 10.1007/s12564-022-09777-2


  • SDGs
  • Hong Kong
  • Public universities
  • Higher Education Sustainability Model
  • Interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • Greening initiatives
  • Sustainability sciences
  • Sustainability curriculum


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