From nature documentaries highlighting the crisis of plastic in the oceans to companies being forced to acknowledge gender disparities in pay, consumers and corporations are becoming wiser to some of the world’s biggest concerns. And no one understands the importance of championing and tackling these more than universities and students.
But which universities are taking these global issues and incorporating them into their governance? And how can we measure the real impact that universities are making on their students and wider communities?
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, achieving peaceful societies and economic growth.
To put together the ranking 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 700 universities were ranked 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 Ranking 2020
New Zealand’s University of Auckland has maintained its first place position in the overall ranking from last year. The university scored highly for SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 3 (good health and well-being for people). It also scored highly for gender equality and sustainable cities and communities. It appeared in the top 20 in 12 of the 17 goals.
The university is dedicated to promoting the work of the SDGs and has worked with universities across New Zealand to create a cohesive, national plan on contributing to the SDGs.
A number of initiatives have been introduced across campus to promote aspects of the goals, such as a staff cycling scheme, changes in printing access to reduce paper waste, recycling workshops and clothing swaps.
The University of Sydney takes overall second place in this year’s Impact Rankings. The university scored particularly well for SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 15 (life on land).
The university is supported by more than 90 research centres conducting research in a number of different areas including disease prevention, crop production, smart transport solutions and reef conservation among others.
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, a mug wall for students to borrow a mug as well as committing to a number of Sydney-wide sustainability projects.
Western Sydney University scored well in SDG 15 (life on land) as well as SDG 5 (gender equality).
Students at the university have the opportunity to learn more about sustainability during their degree through a number of different courses and through incorporating SDG education into their degrees.
There are also various projects where students can travel abroad and engage with global communities to engage with sustainable development and conduct research experiments into sustainability and tourism.
La Trobe University's research covers a broad spectrum of areas including building healthy communities, securing food, water and the environment and transforming human societies among others.
The Future Ready Strategy is designed to implement strategies to effectively address a number of issues facing the world. Some of the things that the university has implemented so far include retrofitting facilities to improve energy and water efficiency, a bike share programme, generating its own electricity using rooftop solar photovoltaics and reducing paper waste.
Arizona State University (Tempe) is the only institution in the top five that is not located in Australasia.
The US university is committed to achieving zero solid waste across all campuses, has provided students with bikes that they can borrow, uses green cleaning products and produced a number of guidelines to minimise harmful emissions related to energy consumption.
There are a number of student clubs and organisations such as the Sustainabilibuddies, the Green Light Solutions and the Honor Society for Sustainability. Students can also become ambassadors for the School of Sustainability.