For the second year in a row, the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings have assessed universities based on their success in delivering the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Universities in Australasia topped this year’s list, with the University of Auckland again taking out first place.
While Australian universities failed to make the top 10 last year, in 2020 four local institutions made the cut: the University of Sydney (2), Western Sydney University (3), La Trobe University (4) and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University (10).
Launched in 2019, the THE Impact Rankings evaluate universities based on their social and economic impact upon society, rather than solely on their teaching and research performance.
Universities across the globe can submit data on as many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as they are able to, and a series of metrics are used to evaluate the universities against the SDG.
The metrics vary depending on the goal, but include things such as the amount of research published on a particular topic and initiatives implemented that help contribute to the aims of the SDGs.
This year, the ranking included 766 universities from 85 nations and regions, an increase of 299 additional institutions from the previous year. New Zealand and Australia were the top performing countries overall, gaining an average score of 87.6 and 87.4 out of 100, respectively.
Local universities take the lead
John Thwaites, Chair of Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute and of Australia’s National Sustainable Development Council said many universities in Oceania were taking the lead in addressing the SDGs.
“One of the reasons is Australian and New Zealand universities have a strong global outlook,” he said.
“We have many international students but we’re also living in developed countries that are surrounded by developing neighbours. And so our success as universities and our countries’ success is very much linked to the sustainable development of our neighbours in Asia and the Pacific.
“Joint education and research projects involving universities from different countries are one of the most effective demonstrations of the SDG agenda.”
With a ranking of 3 overall this year, Western Sydney University continued its impressive performance from the previous year, where it topped the list of Australian universities, at 11th place.
“For the first time, universities can demonstrate how they are making a difference and creating impact outside the traditional markers of teaching and research,” said Professor Barney Glover, the institution’s Vice-Chancellor and President.
“More than ever, we need universities to not only be trusted sources of evidence-based information but to become the institutions that can imagine the new narratives of social transformation needed in our time of crises.”
The SGDs and COVID-19
The release of the THE Impact rankings is timely, given the recent article by the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the President of the Republic of Ghana. The pair wrote about the importance of keeping sight on the SDGs amidst the current global crisis, a situation which is affecting vulnerable societies the most.
“The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe, upending lives and livelihoods,” the pair wrote.
“The cost of the pandemic in terms of loss of human lives is painful, but the effects on the global economy and on sustainable development prospects are also worrying.
“As the world responds to this pandemic and seeks to restore global prosperity, we must focus on addressing underlying factors through the SGDs. We must not relent our efforts, even amid this crisis.
“While some SDG gains have been eroded, this should not deflate our energy. They should rather spur us to accelerate and deepen our efforts during this Decade of Action to ‘recover better’ and build a healthier, safer, fairer and a more prosperous world.”