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Corporate social responsibility in the higher education: evidence from universities in turkey


The main purpose of this research is to examine the corporate social responsibility (CSR) orientation of universities in an emerging country, Turkey The mission and vision statements of all universities were downloaded and analyzed via content analysis. It was found that, all universities have one or several keywords related with CSR.

Key words: Corporate social responsibility (CSR), higher education, emerging countries, mission statements, vision statements, CSR reporting.


UDC 339.9

Ulun Akturan,

Associate Professor,

Galatasaray University e-mail: uakturan AT gsu.edu.tr Istanbul, Turkey

Abdulkadir Akturan,

PhD, Kocaeli University, Turkey e-mail: kakturan AT yahoo.com Kocaeli, Turkey

The changing business environment created an era of social responsibility that put pressure on firms to examine their actions on sustainability. During the last twenty years, CSR is one of the widely accepted concepts in the business all over the world (Lee, 2008). In general CSR is defined as “the voluntary actions taken by a company to address economic, social, and environmental impacts of its business operations and the concerns of its principal stakeholders” (Christensen et al., 2007 p.351).

By the late 1990s, CSR became almost universal and all constituents in socie- ty-governments, companies, NGOs, and even individual consumers- promoted CSR. Major international organizations i.e. United Nations, World Bank, Organiza

tion of Economic Co-operation and Development and International Labor Organization endorsed CSR, and in addition to their endorsement they established guidelines and permanently staffed divisions to research and promote CSR (Lee, 2008). Today, the firms are using CSR activities and spending billions of dollars to differentiate themselves from their competitors and bolster their reputations (Ellen et al., 2006). CSR takes many forms, such as philanthropy, humane employee treatment, environmental responsibility, and cause related marketing. Regardless of these forms, through CSR efforts, the firms intend to portray an image of a responsive company in relation with the needs of the society.

Over the last two decades, higher education institutions also became a central actor in sustainable development (Lee et al., 2013) because, they are defined as key players in the promotion of institutional and social networks, that may foster public policies oriented to citizens, under a sustainable basis (Leitao and Silva, 2007).

The main purpose of this research is to examine the CSR orientation of universities in an emerging country, Turkey. In the study the mission and vision statements and activities of universities in relation with CSR is analyzed by using content and thematic analysis. By doing so, this study generates important contributions: First, this study aims to fulfill the gap on the literature by framing current picture of CSR orientation of the higher education, since there are limited studies on emerging countries and no other study on Turkey. In that scope, this study intends to produce future strategic directions for the universities and researchers.

Conceptual Framework. The modern era of CSR

The beginning of the modern era of social responsibility (SR) is considered as the 1953 publication Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, authored by H.R. Bowen (Evans et al., 2013). This book is the first definitive book on SR and propounded the evolution of management thought from earning profits to conduct businesses with a concern of all affected parties. Selznick (1957) also addressed that evolution in Leadership in Administration and highlighted the adaptation to external forces in the wider society. Starting from 1950s and 1960s, SR has been progressively developed through several groundbreaking studies and evolved into a concern of scholars for CSR (Lee, 2008).

Carroll (1979) provided conceptual clarity by defining the full range of responsibilities of organizations to society: (1) economic, (2) legal, (3) ethical, and (4) discretionary. The essence of CSR though appears to be social responsibilities and the voluntary actions that support community (Carroll, 1999; Carroll, 2008). Whetten et al. (2002, p.374) defined CSR as “societal expectations of corporate behavior that is alleged by a stakeholder to be expected by society or morally required and is therefore justifiable demanded of a business”. Windsor (2006) denoted three similar dimensions: (1) ethical, (2) economic, and (3) corporate citizenship. Garriga and Mele (2004) asserted instrumental, political, integrative, and ethical dimensions of CSR including a business’s obligations to pursue profits, accept social obligations, grow its business, and embed ethical values.

The central tenet of the concept of CSR is that “corporations receive a social sanction from society that requires that they, in return, contribute to the growth and development of that society” (Devinney 2009 p.44). Thus, CSR is multifaceted and encompasses a number of topics such as philanthropy, managerial values, corporate governance, political involvement/behavior, regulation, ethics, and of course, monetary matters. By doing so, the corporations enhance the society by creating and delivering products and services consumers want, providing employment and career opportunities for employees, developing markets for suppliers, and paying taxes to governments and returns to shareholders and other claimants on the rents generated by the corporation. Examples of CSR include support of the local community, charitable events, nondiscrimination, expanded worker benefits, operating efficiently, minimizing pollution, transparency, product safety, and generating profits (Evans et al., 2008). Regardless of their form, CSR efforts are generally intended to portray an image of a company as responsive to the needs of the society.

The CSR in higher education

Higher education institutions have been recognized as critical to the shift toward sustainable development (Lee et al., 2013). In 1972, at the Stockholm Conference (UNEP, 1972) education was formally recognized on an international level to play an important role in fostering environmental protection and conservation. Since then many academic declarations, charters and partnerships were developed in order to encourage environmental education (EE), sustainable development (SD), and environmental sustainable development (ESD). The declarations, charters and partnerships - given in Table 1- were designed to provide guidelines or frameworks for Higher education Institutions (HEIs) to better embed sustainability into their system (Lozano, 2013). The increasing importance of such declarations, charters and partnerships, for fostering transformative SD is evidenced by the more than 1000 university leaders signed the declarations (Calder and Clugston, 2003).

The works of Calder and Clugston (2003) and Wright (2004) have highlighted the following elements and themes of the declarations, charters and partnerships.

  1. Focus on environmental degradation, threats to society, and unsustainable consumption;
  2. Ethical or moral obligation of university leaders and faculties to work towards sustainable societies, including the intergenerational perspective;
  3. Inclusion of SD throughout the curricula in all disciplines;
  4. Encouragement of SD research;
  5. Move towards more sustainability orientated university operations;
  6. Collaboration with other universities;
  7. Stakeholder, e.g. public, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and businesses, collaboration, engagement and outreach.

Transdisciplinarity across the previous points.

Table 1

Declarations hold to foster sustainable development in higher education

1972 Stockholm Declaration 1975 The Belgrade Charter 1977 Tbilisi Declaration

1987 “Our Common Future”, The Brundtland Report Society

Talloires Declaration

Halifax Declaration 1993 Kyoto Declaration 1993 Swansea Declaration 1993 Copernicus Declaration 1997 Thessaloniki Declaration 2000 The Earth Charter Society

Global Higher Education for Sustainability Partnership (GHESP) Higher education

LuDneburg Declaration

World Summit on Sustainable Development

Declaration of Barcelona Higher education

Start of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) Education

2005 Graz Declaration 2009 Abuja Declaration 2009 Torino (Turin) Declaration

Indicative of this relatively slow progress toward HESD is the finding that there are only 15 universities out of 14,000 universities in the world with published sustainability reports (Lozano, 2011). Also Shriberg (2002) noted that none of international declarations and charters offers concrete prescriptions on an operational level for what universities should do exactly in order to contribute to sustainable development.

The mission and vision statements

The strategic posture of the firm is shaped by the values, basic goals, characteristics, and philosophies. This is the foundation of company mission which provides a solid ground for organizational culture and guide future actions ( Sidhu, 2003). A mission statement “reveals the long-term vision of an organisation in terms of what it wants to be and who it wants to serve” (David, 1989). A company’s mission integrates both the social goal of the company, i.e. raison d’etre, and the competitive advantage of the company (Bratianu and Balanescu, 2005).

The mission statements are being used for a wide variety of purposes: (1) as a tool for external public relations, (2) to motivate staff, (3) to ensure unanimity of purpose, (4) to provide a basis for resource allocation, (5) to establish organizational climate, (6) to facilitate the translation of objectives into a work structure, (6) to specify organizational purposes and the translation of these purposes into objectives and hence, to control the cost, time and performance parameters, (7) to provide a consistent purpose between different interest groups, (8) and to improve understanding and support from key groups outside the organization (Baetz and Bart, 1996). The mission of an organization represents the reason for existence and for creating value for society.

A good mission statement should have the following general characteristics ( Bratianu and Balanescu, 2005):

To reflect on the existential plane the vision of the company.

  1. To incorporate the core corporate values.
  2. To be feasible, understandable and concise.
  3. To be generous in stating the company goals.
  4. To have a semantic impact on all stakeholders.
  5. To have a good literary formulation

Mission statement is a purpose, not direction and in that sense, it describes who the organization is and what it does. Mission statements rarely change over time. In general, a mission statement define what business the organization is in, the beliefs about how business should be conducted, the markets and customers it serves, and the unique value it contributes to society at large (Levin, 2000).

Vision and mission are two distinct concepts reflecting different existential time frames. Vision is an idealistic projection of the company in an undefined future, in other words it is the projection of what the company might be and might achieve. A good vision should be: powerful, purposeful, self-determining, concrete, multi-faced, and emotional ( Bratianu and Balanescu, 2005). Effective visions describe a future that is more attractive than the present (Baetz and Bart, 1996). Vision is not just an idea or image of a desirable future but a push factor to jump-start that future by mobilizing people into action ( Nanus, 1992). Vision creates value. Kirkpatrick and Locke (1996) discovered that vision had a positive impact on employee performance and attitudes. Baum et al. (1998) discovered that having a vision positively affects organization-level performance as measured by growth in sales, profits, employment, and net worth.

In the case of universities, in the past, college and university statutes often laid out institutional aims. Beginning in the 1930s, American universities were the first to publish mission statements in their catalogues. In recent decades, British, Canadian, and other universities have followed suit by publishing mission statements in order to prove themselves accountable to the public. Today’s mission statements of universities are often based on three main missions: teaching, research, and public service. There are some institutions, which added to these fundamental goals their own educational, social, political, or spiritual aims (Scott, 2006)

Despite the importance of the link between HESD and graduate attributes, there are few empirical studies that investigate how HESD values are communicated through and embedded in vision, mission and graduate attributes statements (Lee et al. 2013). This is important because the very first step to understand change management is to understand the organizational culture and therefore, it is a crucial to examine what values are publicly espoused in formal philosophy such as mission and vision statements. Despite corporate sustainability (CS) and CSR have evolved from different histories, CSR is used sometimes as synonym to corporate sustainability (Baumgartner, 2014). The conceptualizations and measures of CSR and CS are converging which is in accord with the Education for Sustainability approach (Stubbs and Schapper, 2011).

The present paper aims to identify CSR orientation of universities in an emerging country, Turkey. Because universities are key players in the promotion of institutional and social networks, that may foster public policies under a sustainable basis (Leitao and Silva, 2007).

Research Methodology. Data Collection and Sampling

This study is exploring to what extent are keywords related to CSR present in university-level vision and mission statements? In all, 176 Turkish universities were sampled. Publicly available mission and vision statements of universities on their websites were downloaded and analyzed via content analysis. In addition to that as a secondary data the statistics in relation with the higher education in Turkey is obtained from the Higher Education Institute Information System.

Research Findings

There are 176 universities in Turkey, and 109 of them are state universities while the rest is foundation universities. In Table 2, the numbers of students in the higher education is given in details.

The Number of Students in Higher Education

State University

Table 2

In Figure 1, the university openings through the years can be seen. Before 1900 there were only three universities, between 1900-1960 years nine universities established, between 1961-1980 years 14 universities established, between 1981-2000 years 54 universities established, and since 2001 there are 99 new universities established. As can be concluded form that data, universities in Turkish higher education are young and developing.

Table 2 summarizes the result of content analysis in relation with the CSR related keywords in universities’ mission and vision statements.

As can be seen from Table 3, the most used CSR related word is “development of society”. It is followed by “ethical values”, “environmental conscious” and “social responsibility”.

Table 3

The Frequency of CSR related Words in Universities’ Mission and Vision Statements Frequency

evelopment of society
ethical values
social responsibility
moral values
environmental conscious
employee rights
respect to the human rights
for the sake of humanity
social development

The frequency of CSR related keywords are more used in mission statements then in vision statements. Only one foundation university ( Kadir Has University) published CSR report. In general (60 %) the CSR related activities declared in the announcements. There is no statistical difference between the old and new universities in terms of research question. The general focus is to educate future generations having awareness of CSR and sustainability. Only the 11 universities consist “stakeholder” concept in their statements. Only 5 universities consist “employee rights” in their statements. 64 universities are member of European Universities Association. 17 universities are member of International Association of Universities.


The aim of this research is to analyse the CSR related keywords in the mission and vision statements of universities in an emerging country, Turkey. This is an exploratory study, which attempts to answer that basic question on CSR in universities in Turkey, since there is no other study.

The population of the study is the universities in Turkey and all 176 universities were sampled in the study. By doing so, the mission and vision statements were downloaded from the university websites and analysed via content analysis .

As a conclusion, it was found that, all universities have one or several keywords related with CSR. The used keywords are as follows: “development of society”, “ethical values”, “social responsibility”, “moral values”, “ethical values”, “environmental conscious”, “employee rights”, “sustainable”, “stakeholder”, “respect to human rights”, “for the sake of humanity”, and “social development”. In general the universities are declared their mission and vision as to raise and educate future generations having these values. Only a few universities declared they are also aiming to satisfy their stakeholders- students, academicians, and staff.

However in the case of CSR, the actions and activities are also important. The main limitation is just to focus on mission and vision statements. Curriculum and the activities should also be explored. The survey of the students, the academic personnel and the staff may generate deeper understandings.


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