We’re including all 17 SDGs in the 2020 University Impact Rankings

Duncan Ross outlines what’s new for the 2020 edition of the University Impact Rankings and how universities can get involved 

October 13, 2019
Source: iStock

Welcome to the second ever Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings. Or at least to the opening of the data collection phase – which goes live on 14 October.

Since the launch of the first rankings at KAIST in Daejong last April, we have been delighted with the amount of attention that the rankings have received and the stories of how universities have been using them to help advance the cause of sustainability within their organisations.

Changes from 2019

This autumn, at our World Academic Summit in Zurich – or more accurately at our very fun* Festival of Data just before it – we presented the major changes that we have planned for this year.

These changes allow us to follow up on our promise to include all of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the ranking, and also to include some aspects of teaching for the first time.

The new SDGs that we are including for the first time this year are:

  • SDG 1 – No poverty
  • SDG 2 – Zero hunger
  • SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
  • SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy
  • SDG 14 – Life below water
  • SDG 15 – Life on land

These join the existing 11 SDGs as part of the ranking. Most of the definitions of the other 11 SDGs are staying the same, although we have taken on board suggestions from universities and individuals that have enabled us to make improvements.

As before, our theory of change is that universities can support the delivery of the SDGs in four ways:

  • Research – by searching for new solutions and knowledge related to the SDGs
  • Stewardship – by being responsible for their own consumption and sustainability
  • Outreach – by working directly with their communities, regions and nations
  • Teaching – by inculcating a sustainable mindset in their students and alumni

And while rankings are often accused of promoting competition, it’s worth noting that many of the things we measure are explicitly about collaboration – in research, in working within communities and in working across borders to support the SDG agenda.

As well as incorporating the new SDGs, there are a few updates that I think are worth noting:

  • When looking at teaching we are asking universities how they are incorporating sustainability into their curriculum, for example through participation in approaches such as Sulitest, which provides tools to help organisations assess and improve their knowledge of sustainable development. Although we could have included this in SDG 4, quality education, we decided to incorporate it in SDG 17, as we feel it applies across all SDGs
  • We have added a new measure into SDG 13: asking for a timeline on a commitment to being a carbon-neutral university
  • We have added new questions to the metrics for SDG 10: measures against discrimination that focus on disability

How can universities take part?

The overall principles remain the same – and we hope that participation will be easy for universities.

We want as many universities as possible to participate. Last year 561 universities from across the world chose to do so, being ranked in individual SDGs and in the overall ranking.

As with the first iteration, we encourage universities to submit data for at least four SDGs, one of which should be SDG 17 – partnerships for the goals.

We will use the scores from the best three, plus SDG 17, to calculate an overall score. This is designed to allow universities to participate as widely as possible – we acknowledge that the collection of evidence takes time and effort, and we don’t want to limit this just to institutions with the capacity to provide data on everything.

We also want to reflect that universities may have different priorities. Why should a university in Thailand have the same focus as one in Tennessee? Why would a university in India be concerned about the same SDGs as one in New Zealand?

This is something that was born out when we saw the responses to our first ranking – many universities submitted across all SDGs, but there were distinct regional differences.

Submitting data

Participation is through our data collection portal – a secure way of ensuring that we collect data in a consistent and easily used online system.  To gain access, if you don’t already have it, please contact us at impact@timeshighereducation.com.

We have been working to make sure that data collection is easier this year – with the ability to upload evidence directly in the portal and a clearer user interface.

Where evidence from last year is still valid you are more than welcome to reuse it. We don’t expect policies to have (necessarily) changed, for example.

And, as always, our team of data editors will be on hand to respond to queries, and to help you to provide evidence that shows your institution in the clearest possible light.

Timeline for the 2020 University Impact Rankings

Portal opens – 14 October 2019

Portal closes – 3 January 2020

We will launch the rankings at the THE Innovation and Impact Summit, which will take place at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden from 22 to 24 April 2020.

*I concede that I have an atypical definition of fun

Duncan Ross is the chief data officer at Times Higher Education.


Read our FAQs on the University Impact Rankings and explore the metrics that will be used in the 2020 edition here.

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