Top universities in the world for global impact

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

April 22 2020
Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings.


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

1. University of Auckland

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. 

2. University of Sydney

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. 

3. Western Sydney University

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. 

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 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.

5. Arizona State University (Tempe)

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.

Impact Ranking 2020: Top 100 

Impact Rank 2020 University Country/region
1 University of Auckland New Zealand
2 University of Sydney Australia
3 Western Sydney University Australia
4 La Trobe University Australia
5 Arizona State University (Tempe) United States
6 University of Bologna Italy
7 University of British Columbia Canada
8 University of Manchester United Kingdom
9 King’s College London United Kingdom
10 RMIT University Australia
=11 University of Leeds United Kingdom
=11 Newcastle University United Kingdom
13 Tongji University China
=14 University of São Paulo Brazil
=14 Trinity College Dublin Republic of Ireland
16 University of Waterloo Canada
=17 McMaster University Canada
=17 Monash University Australia
19 Simon Fraser University Canada
20 Aix-Marseille University France
21 University of Leicester United Kingdom
22 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
=23 Aalborg University Denmark
=23 Auckland University of Technology New Zealand
=23 University of Otago New Zealand
26 Western University Canada
27 Northumbria University United Kingdom
28 University of Toronto Canada
29 University of Calgary Canada
30 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
31 University of Wollongong Australia
32 University College Cork Republic of Ireland
33 York University Canada
34 University College Dublin Republic of Ireland
35 Penn State (Main campus) United States
36 Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand
37 Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic University Russian Federation
38 National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) Taiwan
39 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Netherlands
40 University of Malaga Spain
=41 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
=41 Laval University Canada
43 Glasgow Caledonian University United Kingdom
44 University of Dundee United Kingdom
=45 University of Gothenburg Sweden
=45 University of Newcastle Australia
=47 Aalto University Finland
=47 University of Indonesia Indonesia
=47 University of Tasmania Australia
=47 Yonsei University (Seoul campus) South Korea
51 University of Jaén Spain
52 University of Worcester United Kingdom
=53 Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris France
=53 Pompeu Fabra University Spain
=55 Deakin University Australia
=55 Iran University of Medical Sciences Iran
=57 Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur India
=57 Nottingham Trent University United Kingdom
59 University of Surrey United Kingdom
60 Massey University New Zealand
61 Charles Sturt University Australia
=62 University of Coimbra Portugal
=62 National Autonomous University of Mexico Mexico
64 De Montfort University United Kingdom
65 Universiti Sains Malaysia Malaysia
=66 National Changhua University of Education Taiwan
=66 UNSW Sydney Australia
=68 Bangor University United Kingdom
=68 National University of Ireland, Galway Republic of Ireland
=70 Queensland University of Technology Australia
=70 University of Strathclyde United Kingdom
72 Universitas Gadjah Mada Indonesia
=73 University of Aberdeen United Kingdom
=73 Keele University United Kingdom
75 University of Johannesburg South Africa
76 Hokkaido University Japan
=77 IPB University Indonesia
=77 KTH Royal Institute of Technology Sweden
=77 The University of Tokyo Japan
=80 University of Helsinki Finland
=80 University of Malaya Malaysia
82 University of Victoria Canada
83 Edith Cowan University Australia
84 Dublin City University Republic of Ireland
=85 University of Bergen Norway
=85 Dalhousie University Canada
=87 University of L’Aquila Italy
=87 Queen’s University Belfast United Kingdom
=87 University of South Australia Australia
90 Bournemouth University United Kingdom
=91 University of Barcelona Spain
=91 Hanyang University South Korea
=91 Londrina State University Brazil
=91 Plekhanov Russian University of Economics Russian Federation
95 Altai State University Russian Federation
96 University of Saskatchewan Canada
97 Tohoku University Japan
98 Lakehead University Canada
=99 Brunel University London United Kingdom
=99 Charles Darwin University Australia
=99 Kyungpook National University South Korea

View the full University Impact Ranking here 

Illustration of a book

Register free and enjoy extra benefits