Social Responsibility Reporting in Higher Education Institutions: A Systematic Literature Review

Social Responsibility Reporting in Higher Education Institutions: A Systematic Literature Review

José Vale (Porto Accounting and Business School, Polytechnic of Porto, Portugal), Rui Bertuzi (Porto Accounting and Business School, Polytechnic of Porto, Portugal) and Albertina Paula Monteiro (Porto Accounting and Business School, Polytechnic of Porto, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2128-1.ch004


This chapter analyzes research in social responsibility (SR) reporting in higher education institutions (HEI), addressing different aspects: a longitudinal assessment, the theoretical approaches, the adopted methodologies, and its main results. A systematic literature review is undertaken. To do so, the ISI Web of Knowledge and Scopus databases were used to retrieve the articles for analysis. The articles were limited to business and management research area. Findings show that literature on SR reporting in HEIs is still in its infancy and it is very heterogeneous, with only 24 articles addressing this theme. Most articles resorted to qualitative methodologies, emphasizing the case study. Findings also show a lack of normalization regarding reporting. Stakeholders' theory and the seek for legitimacy are crucial in SR disclosing in HEIs. Several contributions emerge, namely the provision of a comprehensive review of the current state of research on SR reporting in HEIs and, consequently, a call for increasing the awareness of such organizations towards the importance of this theme.
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In the last few years, different entities, such as governments and organizations, or even the civil society are engaged in an intense debate focused on environmental and social problems. In fact, the United Nations agenda for the 2030 sustainable development encompasses, in its goals, the development of initiatives to address such problems. Nowadays, it is expected that organizations show transparency and act in a socially responsible fashion. Organizations are increasingly being pressured namely by external stakeholders, who seek to hold companies accountable for social problems and to highlight the financial risks that may arise for those who incur in misconduct (Porter and Kramer, 2006). In other terms, there is a pressure to engage in what is called “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)”. CSR, as a research field, emerged in the 1950s, namely due to the publication of Howard R. Bowen's seminal book “Social Responsibilities of the Businessman” (Bowen, 1953) and, in the 1960s, this theme gained relevance in academic and practical terms. However, research on CSR related to management is relatively recent (Wang et al., 2016).

Research on CSR has been addressing different types of organizations, with different sizes (Nejati et al., 2011). However, most of this research has been focusing on private and for-profit organizations, although it is a fact that other types of organizations are, nowadays, pressured to act in a social responsible way and, accordingly, disclose their actions and initiatives: such is the case of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) (Dahlsrud, 2008; Duff, 2016). In fact, organizations have different motivations to undertake and disclose CSR activities, namely, to gain support from stakeholders and obtain legitimacy (Frynas and Yamahaki, 2016; Branco and Rodrigues, 2008). Specifically, some companies consider that if they have good relationships with their stakeholders, such will lead to the development of intangible resources capable of generating financial benefits and competitive advantages. CSR actions can be used as an instrument of legitimacy, in order to show that companies are in line with the standards and expectations of their stakeholders about how operations should be performed (Branco and Rodrigues, 2008). Hence, this chapter focuses on SR disclosure in HEIs.

Higher Education Institutions are considered as centers of knowledge creation and diffusion and, consequently, their role in todays’ society is crucial. However, the higher education sector has been under deep changes. International organizations claim that HEIs should be leading the development of solutions for a greater sustainability and that they should integrate this concept in their procedures (Rodríguez Bolívar et al., 2013). HEIs can, nowadays, be compared to big businesses which have to attend their stakeholders’ needs (namely students, employees and society) in order to be sustainable (Asrar-ul-Haq et al., 2017). Their internal governance, their performance or even their accountability and transparency are issues which are now stressed by public opinion (Ntim et al., 2017; Asrar-ul-Haq et al., 2017). Thus, many top world HEIs consider SR as a serious theme, adopting different strategies and developing CSR activities, such as including CSR in their curricula or using different reports and digital platforms to disclose their practices (Nejati et al., 2011; Asrar-ul-Haq, 2017). However, although HEIs “are now integrating the concepts of social responsibility within the university educational system whilst also training professionals in educational ethics, social values and concern about the repercussion of business activity on the environment” (Rodríguez Bolívar et al., 2013, p. 552), CSR “is yet to be proven in the higher education industry” (Othman and Othman, 2014, p. 1), namely when pressures to report their actions are increasing.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Responsibility Reporting: the means by which organizations seek to disseminate information to its stakeholders, about their social responsibility performance and strategies;

Systematic Literature Review: a research method that allows to identify, evaluate and interpret all available evidence in the literature regarding a particular topic.

Legitimacy Theory: a theory that advocates that organizations seek to act within the limits and norms accepted by the community;

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