Australia’s universities are ranked third in the world for their performance against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, according to a recent analysis.
Last week, Times Higher Education (THE) released the first edition of their University Impact Rankings, which assess universities’ social and economic impacts against criteria based on 11 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Based on average scores across the universities assessed, Australia placed third globally with an average overall score of 81.6 out of 100, behind Canada (86.6) and Ireland (85.1).
University of Auckland took out first place in the individual university rankings for engineering subjects, with an overall score of 97.2. It was followed by two Canadian institutions: McMaster University (96.6) and University of British Columbia (96.2).
There were nine Australian Universities in the overall top 50. These included Western Sydney University (11), University of Wollongong (13), University of South Australia (22), University of Sydney (25), James Cook University (39), Edith Cowan University (42), and Monash University (45). University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology also made the cut, sharing 46th place.
With the exception of University of South Australia, all of these universities ranked in the global top 50 for engineering subjects aligned to the SDGs as well.
According to Western Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover, the university’s proximity to sustainable development challenges is a valuable learning experience. These include balancing urbanisation with biodiversity, river health, habitat and loss of farmland. He said there is also a need to increase the availability of transport to all members of the community.
“As dynamic centres for teaching, research and innovation, universities can lead the way in supporting socially just and ecologically responsible societal transformation,” Glover said.
Recognising the achievements of smaller institutions
According to THE Chief Knowledge Officer Phil Baty, the University Impact rankings are intended to disrupt the traditional model of excellence set up by the THE World University Rankings and recognise the “life-changing work” of less prestigious institutions.
“Those universities that are lucky enough to have the resources to develop state-of-the-art infrastructure, and that can pay top dollar to attract and retain the world’s top thinkers, will inevitably do well in the traditional rankings,” Baty explained.
To this end, the impact rankings assessed universities against the following United Nations SDGs:
- Good health and wellbeing
- Quality education
- Gender equality
- Decent work and economic growth
- Industry, innovation and infrastructure
- Reduced inequalities
- Sustainable cities and communities
- Responsible consumption and production
- Climate action
- Peace, justice and strong institutions
- Partnerships for the goals
The overall score was calculated by combining a university’s partnerships score with the top three scores against other SDGs.
Western Sydney University achieved the top global score for gender equality (80.9) and second in the world for reduced inequalities (70.7). Glover said the university had a strong commitment to gender equity and inclusivity and reducing inequality because providing educational opportunities for students was “part of [the university’s] DNA”.
On the international scene, Glover said Western Sydney University is addressing inequality through research into managed aquifer recharge in semi-arid regions of India.
“Farmers in this region face significant water shortages and the risk of crop failure with slight changes in monsoon rain patterns,” Glover explained, adding that Western Sydney University was also working with Sri Lankan farmers to roll out a smartphone-based system for better decision making.
Baty hopes the new ranking will recognise the fantastic work that universities do for the good of society beyond traditional metrics of teaching and research.
“But also that it will shake up our very notion of what excellence in global higher education looks like,” he added.