National Cheng Kung UniversityUsing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to build a brighter future for higher education

Using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to build a brighter future for higher education

With the SDGs offering a framework for creating impactful research and teaching, National Cheng Kung University’s Global Research Group is allowing universities across Asia to share best practice, drive innovation and tackle the UN’s SDGs

When National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) launched its “WUN Global Research Group – SDGs in Asia” in 2021, it created a platform for international collaboration on a number of projects designed to tackle the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Such projects have the potential to transform society. Similarly, the SDGs have transformed NCKU, giving it a framework for delivering on its own development mission and the opportunity to maximise its social impact. At a conference titled “Shaping the future agenda of SDGs in Asia”, hosted at its Future Venue in Taiwan, Huey-Jen Jenny Su, president of NCKU, described the SDGs as a “universal language” that allowed researchers from across the globe to collaborate with purpose.

Su spoke of how the SDGs would inform the teaching at NCKU, with curricula to be revised so that students would be better prepared for tackling such real-world challenges in their careers. She said it was incumbent upon higher education to let the SDGs steer science and research.

The day-long event was attended by Taiwanese academics and their international colleagues, who shared their research findings and explained how the research group was offering a network for pioneering science projects that aligned with the SDGs.

In his keynote, Tony Capon, director of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute at Monash University, opened the conference by highlighting the necessity for international perspectives. He said higher education could be a catalyst for great change, not only by presenting scientific solutions to SDG problems but by educating the leaders of tomorrow. In turn, the SDGs offered universities opportunities to attract funding and students, and to show the world how their research has had impact.

Mohd Wira Mohd Shafiei, director of the Centre for Global Sustainability Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said universities must place sustainability at the heart of what they do on campus and beyond. “Sustainability requires a paradigm shift towards systems thinking, collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches,” he said. “This transformation calls for a process of cultural change which affects individual mindsets, organisations and society as a whole. As institutions that catalyse culture, knowledge and innovation, universities have the potential to become change agents for sustainability.”

Those attending the conference heard how the research group was addressing social development directly through science. Leveraging synergies between like-minded institutions was critical in tackling the complex issues that can be addressed by the SDGs. Academics spoke on a wide range of topics, including how the pandemic impacted health and well-being and how to cater for ageing populations, sharing technologies to improve drinking water and on the search for affordable clean energy.

NKCU is presently calling for proposals for the 2023 Research Project Fund, which will provide seed funding and a network of support for academics whose work aligns with the SDGs. NCKU hopes this will help promote the transformative potential of the SDGs, providing case studies for best practice and facilitating collaboration between partner institutions in Asia, creating a culture of impactful research steered by SDG objectives.

NCKU’s society-facing strategy will see it expand its efforts to align research and teaching with more SDGs. The NCKU 2030 initiative will decentralise the campus and foreground cross-disciplinary teaching to drive impact. Presently ranked first in Taiwan and 33rd in the world for social impact in the THE Impact Rankings, NCKU hopes to create the solutions for today’s global problems and to cultivate the leaders to solve tomorrow’s.

 Find out more about the WUN Research Global Group – SDGs in Asia.

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