The study moves from the need to depict the role of universities in furthering sustainability and sustainable development goals in society (Purcell et al., 2019) starting from the set of entangled relationships linking Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with local businesses, government agencies, students, the civil society, and international partners. The relevance of HEIs in such a domain is also mirrored in their communication and reporting efforts (Lozano, 2011). This paper focuses on the identification of the main drivers and barriers that HEIs encounter in their increasing attempts to implement sustainability-oriented strategies, policies and initiatives. The chosen approach relies on service innovation to the extent that such concept can provide HEIs with the necessary support to stimulate the development of sustainability-related strategies and activities. Indeed, universities play a relevant role as collector of knowledgeable actors and innovators in the social context in which they are embedded (Gallouj et al., 2018). The research questions guiding our study highlight the core aspects of the debate concerning universities as catalysers of sustainability in multiple domains. The analysis conducted for the study is based on mixed method methodology, combining qualitative and quantitative data gathered from semi-structured interviews and two surveys on a broader sample of deans and academics across European HEIs. The outcomes of our study are expected to contribute to the advancement of knowledge concerning the depiction of sustainability-oriented policies and strategies to be adopted by HEIs. Such results help to combine the need for innovative solutions in terms of the service provided in the field of education and research, with the increasing interest in service provision towards the private sector, the civil society, and the governmental institutions.
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