Universities pursue the intrinsic goal of generating knowledge. As such, they have a significant responsibility for progress and are committed to a scientific approach. As major institutions of public administration, they also play a crucial role in the sustainable transformation of the society. Not only the areas of research and teaching are relevant, but also other levels of impact such as transfer, operations and governance. Because of its multiple levels of impact, a university has great influence. This includes impact on its home region as an employer and cooperation partner, on its student body as a teacher, or in the "scientific community" as a researcher. But are universities using their potential and driving the development of a sustainable future? How sustainable are Germany's universities? And do they provide information about their efforts in this regard?
Since January 2006, when the Freedom of Information Act came into force, all public institutions, including universities, have been legally required to disclose information about their operations to the public. Although universities are legally bound to respond to information requests and are expected to participate in the knowledge-generation process, a preliminary survey has revealed that many universities fail to fulfill this duty and ignore demands for disclosing information. Specifically, inquiries relating to crucial matters like sustainable initiatives and gender parity remained unanswered. However, do these indicative observations represent the broader reality?
Köhler et al. (2023) discover that the level of responsiveness of municipalities towards citizens' inquiries is low, and that the response depends on the characteristics of the inquirer. Another variation is observed both before and after the election periods: Municipalities are more responsive before the election period than they are after. According to Köhler et al. (2023), responsiveness relies on a political motivation. Öhberg and Naurin (2016) and Butler and Broockman (2011) present similar results. The responsiveness of U.S. local politicians is tested and it is found out that it depends on the name of the inquirer (race) and the nature/motives of their writing.
Does the level of responsiveness of universities depend on the inquirer? This research study attempts to answer the question. Considering the findings of Köhler et al. (2023), universities may also follow political motivations. The primary objective of a university is to produce graduates. Do universities prioritize answering inquiries from interested applicants over scientists? To be more specific, are inquiries from scientists consistently ignored? Is it possible to conclude that scientific inquiries receive a different level of responsiveness as compared to inquiries made by prospective students? Is it justifiable to attribute the low responsiveness observed in the pre-survey to the essential matters related to sustainability efforts and gender equity in higher education?
This proposed study aims to investigate whether higher education institutions are less responsive to academic inquiries than to inquiries from interested students. Additionally, the study aims to explore whether the responsiveness of colleges correlates with their existing sustainability efforts. Do higher education institutions exhibit less likelihood of responding to scientific inquiries when they have implemented few sustainability projects up to now? Do they tend to be more reactive to inquiries from prospective students when the two inquiries are indistinguishable except for the sender?