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Role of Academia in Creating a Sustainable World by 2030

03 March, 2022

A write-up concerning the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

"In a gentle way, you can shake the world,” said Mahatma Gandhi. Who else is better than the academic institutions to make mahatma’s statement a reality? They possess young, energetic, and curious minds and the future belongs to these youngsters. If our students and the generations to follow them have to live in a better world, it is through them the change must happen on a large scale. However, it is the responsibility of policymakers and academicians to ensure that they transfer necessary skills and imbibe a sense of responsibility in them. If students make their minds, they do not just change the present scenario but inspire the generations that follow them. The students are of course backed and mentored by their teachers and academicians who have the skill, experience, and know-how to get the things done.

The right to education act in India and similar programmes across the world typically spares no one from getting formal primary and secondary education. It allows academic institutions and the nation at large to use this as an opportunity to instil the vision of a sustainable future in every human being who goes through the path of formal education.

United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

UN believes that learning about sustainable development from an early age makes the students responsible citizens and these responsible citizens all over the world would certainly shake and make the world a sustainable place.

There is already immense work that is being done and happening towards sustainable development systemically. The UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda is one such programme that is immensely popular, systematic, global, and goal-oriented. UN has carved out 17 Sustainable Development Goals that are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives of everyone everywhere. These 17 Goals were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which set out a 15-year plan to achieve the Goals.

“Today, progress is being made in many places, but, overall, action to meet the Goals is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required. 2020 needs to usher in a decade of ambitious action to deliver the Goals by 2030,” UN stated on its website.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the SDGs

In an article published on the UNESCO’s website titled, Higher Education and the Sustainable Development Goals, the institution opines that, apart from SDG 4 which is about quality education, higher education also form an important part of other goals related to poverty (SDG1); health and well-being (SDG3); gender equality (SDG5) governance; decent work, and economic growth (SDG8); responsible consumption and production (SDG12); climate change (SDG13); and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG16).

Higher education institutions have a major role in contributing to the SDGs by preparing lifelong learners for the challenges of the 21st century. More than ever, collaborative research and open science are needed to contribute to the recovery and resilience of societies, connecting education to other sectors, such as health, employment, or the environment.

How Can Universities Ensure Progress Towards the UN SDGs?

The SDGs apply to all countries, but the SDGs are not legally binding. This means that higher education institutions (regardless of geography, institutional typology, affiliation, and status), and every other partner or stakeholder, need to work together and coordinate efforts to ensure the achievement of the SDGs.

Over the next few years, higher education institutions are likely to embark on a sustainable development journey like no other in history. This is because globalisation has facilitated a transformation in which spatial boundaries disappear, enabling a borderless engagement, whereby local and global spaces are interconnected, University World News said in one of its articles related to SDGs published on their website.

56 University Presidents Commit to Joint Action on SDGs

According to the University World News article, University Presidents from 30 countries have signed a Joint Statement of Global University Leaders on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, witnessed by United Nations officials in March 2021. Universities that have signed the initiative include Peking University, China; Kyoto University, Japan; Korea University, South Korea; the National University of Singapore; Harvard University and Yale University, both US, etc.

“Yale University has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 43% over the past 15 years, even though the campus square footage has increased significantly,” Yale University President Peter Salovey said. And University of Oslo Rector Svein Stolen said: “More equal and mutually beneficial partnerships must be developed upon scientific principles, academic values, a shared vision and shared goals which place people and the planet at the centre.”

Canadian Universities Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals

In 2020, Universities Canada embarked on a Pan-Canadian initiative focused on increasing awareness of SDG projects on Canadian campuses and connecting stakeholders through cross-university and university-community partnerships that bridge efforts across sectors and embrace The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development supported by the Federal Government SDG funding program. This initiative explores how Canadian universities are integral to a global movement to advance the United Nations’ SDGs with practical solutions for sustainable development through diverse activities and institutional commitments.

“Universities and other higher education institutions have a critical role in helping society achieve the SDGs through leadership, research, teaching and learning, campus operations. Education and research are explicitly recognised in several SDGs, and universities have a direct role in addressing these key focuses,” Universities Canada stated on its website.

PACT2030: QS I-GAUGE Initiative

PACT2030 which stands for Pledge, Act, Change, Transform – 2030; is a social enterprise that has been constituted to empower academic institutions to think beyond their boundaries and care for the world. Institutions have started to commit towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on an ongoing basis, but QS I-GAUGE knows that the power of togetherness is much mightier. As the name suggests, PACT2030 has a long-term vision and is a scalable model on global platforms. PACT2030 will champion change, not just by bringing leaders together; but by ensuring that they commit to the long-term vision of change for a better world.

Educational institutions have a leading role in helping society to achieve the Global Sustainable Development Goals through leadership, research, teaching and learning, campus operations, and community service. As living laboratories of transformation and innovation, the academic engagement, leadership, commitment, partnerships, and exemplar models are crucial to empower the next generations, advance SDGs progress, and foster a resilient and equitable future. What better way to empower our future, than to give power and support to young minds - the future is for them indeed.


The views & opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent those of QS-ERA India Private Limited and/or its employees, partners, shareholders, or other stakeholders.


Ajay Ramachandra, Marketing Specialist, QS I-GAUGE





How can universities ensure progress towards the UN

56 university presidents commit to joint action on SDGs

Canadian universities advancing the Sustainable Development Goals

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