Top universities in the world for global impact

Explore the top 100 universities making a global impact in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 

April 21 2021
Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings.


From the crisis of plastic in the oceans to gender disparities in pay, the world’s biggest concerns are more and more in the minds consumers and corporations. And no one understands the importance of tackling these better than universities and students.  

But which universities are incorporating these global issues into their governance? And how can we measure the real impact that universities are making on their students and wider communities?

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Times Higher Education has put together the Impact Rankings to shine a light on those institutions that are working hard to tackle global issues such as gender inequality, quality education for all, climate change, and achieving peaceful societies and economic growth. 

To put together the rankings, we mapped how universities around the world are committing to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a global call to action to tackle poverty, climate change and inequality.  

Universities were invited to submit data on how they were progressing on the SDGs. More than 1,200 universities submitted data this year across the SDGs. You can read more about the methodology here.

This ranking is a crucial resource for students choosing a university because it moves away from assessing universities on their research output and focuses instead on the impact that universities are having on some of the world’s most pressing issues. 

Top five universities in the Impact Rankings 2021

1. University of Manchester

The University of Manchester has taken the first place for the first time this year, and it’s also the first time a UK university has ranked number one in the Impact Rankings. 

The university takes the number one position for SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). It also appears in the top 20 in seven other SDG tables.

The university has committed to developing work on the SDGs through its research, teaching, public engagement and campus operations. The university has produced a document that lays out the initiatives and research projects the university has committed to in relation to each SDG. These include a student-led food bank, a bike-sharing scheme and incorporating teaching on the SDGs in a range of courses. 

2. University of Sydney

The University of Sydney retains its second place in this year’s Impact Rankings. The university also takes the first place for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation). 

The university is supported by more than 90 research centres investigating areas such as disease prevention, crop production, smart transport solutions and reef conservation. 

The university is incorporating sustainability into everyday campus life in many ways. These include discounts for students who bring their own bowls to food outlets, no plastic straws and a mug wall so students can borrow a mug as well as committing to several Sydney-wide sustainability projects. 

3. RMIT University

RMIT University scores particularly highly for SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure). 

The university has a range of research projects and initiatives dedicated to working towards each SDG. 

Initiatives include providing free breakfasts for RMIT students to tackle food poverty, financial education for students and incorporating modules on the SDGS within degree curricula. 

Research initiatives being conducted by academic staff include sustainable farming methods and how to create liveable cities. 

Top universities for tackling gender equality
Top universities for climate action
Best universities for recycling and sustainability

Best universities for reducing inequalities

4. La Trobe University

La Trobe University’s research covers a broad spectrum of areas such as building healthy communities, securing food, water and the environment, and transforming human societies. 

The Future Ready strategy is designed to address a number of issues facing the world. Actions undertaken so far include retrofitting facilities to improve energy and water efficiency, launching a bike-sharing programme, generating its own electricity using rooftop solar photovoltaics and reducing paper waste.

5. Queen’s University

Queen’s University enters the Impact Rankings for the first time this year and is the only Canadian university in the top 10. 

It scores highly across SDGs including SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger) and SGD 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions). 

Student-led environment projects on the Queens University campus include The Earth Centre, the Tea Room and a student-run service that provides free energy retrofits to student housing. 

Sustainable Queen’s brings together all the campus working groups that aim to create a greener, more sustainable campus. 

Impact Ranking 2021: Top 100 


Impact rank 2021 University Country/region
1 University of Manchester United Kingdom
2 University of Sydney Australia
3 RMIT University Australia
4 La Trobe University Australia
5 Queen’s University Canada
=6 Aalborg University  Denmark
=6 University of Wollongong Australia
8 University College Cork Republic of Ireland
=9 Arizona State University (Tempe) United States
=9 University of Auckland New Zealand
11 King’s College London United Kingdom
12 University of Newcastle Australia
13 University of British Columbia Canada
14 McMaster University Canada
15 Newcastle University United Kingdom
16 University of Leeds United Kingdom
17 Western Sydney University Australia
18 Monash University Australia
19 University of Leicester United Kingdom
20 University of Bologna Italy
21 University of Coimbra Portugal
22 University College Dublin Republic of Ireland
=23 Chulalongkorn University Thailand
=23 University of Plymouth United Kingdom
=23 University of Southern Denmark Denmark
26 University of the Sunshine Coast Australia
27 Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University Saudi Arabia
=28 Indiana University -Purdue University Indianapolis United States
=28 Metropolitan Autonomous University Mexico
=30 University of South Florida (Tampa)  United States
=30 Yonsei University (Seoul campus) South Korea
=32 Penn State (Main campus) United States
=32 University of Strathclyde United Kingdom
34 University of Toronto Canada
35 Iran University of Medical Sciences Iran
36 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
37 Massey University New Zealand
38 Griffith University Australia
=39 University of Montreal Canada
=39 Universiti Sains Malaysia Malaysia
=41 KTH Royal Institute of Technology Sweden
=41 University of Sussex United Kingdom
=43 University of Calgary  Canada
=43 Queen’s University Belfast  United Kingdom
=43 Queensland University of Technology Australia
=46 King Abdulaziz University Saudi Arabia
=46 Simon Fraser University Canada
48 University of São Paulo Brazil
49 University of Gothenburg Sweden
=50 University of Limerick Republic of Ireland
=50 Northumbria University United Kingdom
52 Western University Canada
53 NOVA University of Lisbon Portugal
=54 Australian Catholic University Australia
=54 King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi Thailand
=54 Kyungpook National University South Korea
=57 University of Aberdeen  United Kingdom
=57 University of Canberra  Australia
=57 University of Otago New Zealand
=57 Trinity College Dublin Republic of Ireland
61 University of Surrey United Kingdom
62 Concordia University Canada
63 University of Exeter United Kingdom
=64 University of Alberta  Canada
=64 Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember Indonesia
66 Manchester Metropolitan University United Kingdom
67 York University Canada
69 Glasgow Caledonian University United Kingdom
69 National Autonomous University of Mexico Mexico
=70 University at Buffalo  United States
=70 Université Laval Canada
=72 University of Liverpool  United Kingdom
=74 Bournemouth University United Kingdom
=74  Florida International University United States
=76 Auckland University of Technology New Zealand
=76 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
=76 University of Tasmania Australia
=79 Deakin University  Australia
=79 Hasanuddin University Indonesia
81 Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham India
82 Macquarie University Australia
82 National University of Ireland, Galway Ireland
=83 Universitas Gadjah Mada Indonesia
=83 Polytechnic University of Valencia Spain
=85 University of Indonesia  Indonesia
=85 Oklahoma State University United States
=87 American University of Beirut Lebanon
=87 Durham University United Kingdom
=87 Texas State University United States
90 University of Barcelona Spain
91 James Cook University Australia
=92 University of Jaén  Spain
=92 University of Johannesburg South Africa
94 Shanghai University China
95 Aswan University Egypt
=96 University of Saskatchewan Canada
=96  UNSW Sydney Australia
98 Comillas Pontifical University Spain
98  Keele University

United Kingdom

=99 Lakehead University Canada
=99 University of Padua Italy
=99 University of Waterloo Canada

View the full Impact Ranking here 

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