When attempting to measure the impact of something, it can be pretty tricky to find ways to define “impact”. Most people are aware that universities do have an impact on students, staff, industry and the wider community. But how exactly do they do that?
This is something Times Higher Education decided to tackle when putting together the brand new University Impact Rankings 2019. In order to measure impact, we mapped how universities were charting their progress against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In this way students are able to see which universities are putting their energies into combating gender inequality, tackling climate change, encouraging peaceful societies and putting measures in place to become more sustainable.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were established in 2015 in order to tackle some of the biggest global challenges by 2030. The goals focus on a number of issues including improving gender equality, tackling poverty, providing better healthcare, providing quality education for all and encouraging economic growth.
Based on a cross section of 11 of the 17 goals, universities submitted data on how they were contributing to achieving these goals. They had to provide evidence on how these goals were being incorporated into their governance, and how they were holding themselves accountable to make a real difference.
The Impact Rankings are particularly key in helping students find a university that champions the causes that they care about. These rankings move away from lauding universities on research output and papers published, and instead shine a light on those implementing tangible ways to make a difference in the world and to their students.
It also promotes those universities that may not have the resources to put out reams of research, but are able to make small changes that make huge differences across campus.
The University of Auckland takes the first place position this year, the very first time that a New Zealand institution has topped a THE university ranking. The university achieved strong scores on the SDGs of: good health and well-being; gender equality; peace, justice and strong institutions; and partnerships for the goals.
Canada was the best performing country with the highest scores on average across the rankings. Canadian institutions performed particularly well in good health and well-being, sustainable cities and communities, climate action, and partnerships for the goals.
As students it’s important to hold your institutions to account for the choices they make. The University Impact Rankings mark a new way forward in ranking universities and it’s something that students can really help to influence. No institution is perfect, but by listening to their students and understanding the causes that they care about, a university can really make a difference and behave in line with their students’ goals.
Moreover, there are many things that you can do as students to contribute to your institutions’ mission to achieve these goals: set up student societies dedicated to some of the SDG issues, attend lectures with thought leaders in these fields, look at what your institution’s climate-change plan involves and hold them to account, expect halls of residences to encourage recycling and waste minimisation, and so much more.
It can be overwhelming to try to make major changes in your lifestyle so start off small. Walk instead of drive, buy a reusable water bottle, don’t throw away food. Small changes can make big differences.