Supporting agency for sustainability - Exploring the contributions of universities and workplaces to the sustainability competencies and agency of engineering graduates

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


The societal sustainability transformation requires actions from all organizations. University graduates have the opportunity to catalyze the transformation already in the early career, provided they have adequate competencies from the education, and the workplaces ensure sufficient opportunities to influence. Particularly engineering graduates play a significant role through a solution-oriented approach. This dissertation investigates how universities support graduates in developing the required competencies and agency for sustainability using Nordic universities and the water and environmental engineering field in Finland as case examples. The thesis combines three research contexts, sustainability in higher education, engineering education and transition to working life, which together create a unique, broad theoretical framework for the explorations. The study utilizes surveys, interviews, and workshops to focus on the integration of sustainability in university operations, on the competencies needed for the early career ('employability') and for promoting sustainability, and on graduate role and agency in the workplaces. The findings show that sustainability is generally considered as important. The employers are also satisfied with graduate contributions. However, Nordic universities could take a stronger 'whole university approach' in integrating sustainability to better support graduate sustainability agency. Supporting teachers in sustainability education revealed to need particular emphasis. In engineering, employability competencies are prioritized over sustainability. In promoting sustainability, graduates are expected to take a knowledgeable, independent, even transgressive role. While they do bring new insights and 'green' values, the graduates have challenges to connect their work to sustainability and they feel lacking power to influence. A hybrid graduate competency profile is suggested that promotes both employability and sustainability competencies: substance knowledge, key sustainability competencies, and sustainability knowledge. Followingly, this dissertation encourages engineering educators to explore new pedagogical approaches that particularly develop the personal dispositions and agency of students and facilitate framing own work to a sustainability context. It further highlights the role of universities in supporting the teachers and workplaces in supporting the graduates. In addition, collaborative agency for sustainability among the graduates, workplaces and education is encouraged, as intensified collaboration around sustainability can clarify the role of the graduates in catalyzing the sustainability transformation in workplaces. It can also encourage teachers to try new approaches for teaching sustainability, students to develop adequate competencies, and workplaces to create practices that support graduates in contributing to sustainability.
Translated title of the contributionTukea kestävyystoimijuudelle: Tutkimus yliopistojen ja työpaikkojen toimista tekniikan alan valmistuneiden kestävyysosaamisen ja -toimijuuden edistämiseksi
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Keskinen, Marko, Supervising Professor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-1655-7
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-1656-4
Publication statusPublished - 2024
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • sustainability in higher education
  • engineering education
  • graduate competencies
  • sustainability agency
  • early career


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