Why universities must work together to achieve Sustainable Development Goals

Duncan Ross explains why submitting data on global partnerships is mandatory for inclusion in the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings

March 5, 2019
Jigsaw puzzle

The first edition of the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings will include metrics based on 11 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and institutions can submit data on as many or as few of those as they wish. But a university must submit data on SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals to be included in the overall table.

Why have we included this condition?

SDG 17 is a little bit unusual – rather than focusing on a specific topic, it is about the need for the whole of society to work together to deliver on the ambition of the SDGs. This cooperation is crucial if all of the goals are to be achieved.

As the UN puts it: “A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. These inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, are needed at the global, regional, national and local level.”

This description certainly includes universities, and this is why we have put SDG 17 in a special place in our analysis.

To reflect this, the questions that we ask in this area are focused on collaborations around the SDGs, and the production of public evidence.

These are the three metrics:

  • Proportion of all SDG research with international co-authorship
  • Relationships with NGOs and regional and national governments
  • Which of the 11 SDGs does your university publish outputs for?

We are specifically looking for collaborations that reference the SDGs directly, but we will also recognise work in the same area. And we are looking for how a university is making a concrete difference to one or more of the goals.

When it comes to involvement in government policy, ideally we want to see evidence of how the university has interacted with their government. This could be through a response to a direct question, specific collaboration, or perhaps giving evidence. Simply doing research in the hope that your government will pick it up later isn’t sufficient.

The other aspect we’re looking for is universities publishing their performance against the SDGs, either individually, or as part of an annual report.

Again, when we’re evaluating the evidence we would ideally like to see specific reference to the SDGs, but clear references to relevant areas of sustainability are the next best option.

We also ask about the provision of this evidence as open data. By publishing evidence as open data a university is committing itself to openness about its progress towards the SDGs.

Duncan Ross is chief data officer at Times Higher Education.


THE’s inaugural University Impact Rankings will launch on 3 April at the Innovation and Impact Summit at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)Find more information about the programme and how to register. 

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