SDGs in Universities


Universities are uniquely positioned to assist with implementing the SDGs.


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We Encourage Universities to Walk the Talk.

Universities and the academic sectors more broadly, with their broad remit around the creation and dissemination of knowledge and their unique position in society, have a critical role to play in the achievement of the SDGs. Education, research, innovation and leadership will be essential in helping society to transform into pathways of sustainable development. This is why we encourage universities and knowledge institutions to implement sustainability in their core operations.

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Getting Started

“Universities must act on the Sustainable Development Goals now.” *

Given the size of the task of achieving the SDGs, and the key role of universities in this work, there is an urgent need for the sector to pick up the pace.  The Guide: Getting Started with the SDGs in Universities provides a framework for doing so.


Short Summary of the Guide

Engaging with the SDGs will greatly benefit universities by helping them demonstrate university impact, capture demand for SDG-related education, build new partnerships, access new funding streams, and define a university that is responsible and globally aware. The contribution of universities to the SDGs is broad. Some of the main areas of contribution are:

Learning and Teaching
Providing students with the knowledge, skills and motivation to understand and address the SDGs (broadly ‘education for sustainable development’); providing in-depth academic or vocational expertise to implement SDG solutions; providing accessible, affordable and inclusive education to all; providing capacity building for students and professionals from developing countries; and empowering and mobilizing young people.

Providing the necessary knowledge, evidence base, solutions, technologies, pathways and innovations to underpin and support the implementation of the SDGs by the global community – through both traditional disciplinary approaches and newer interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and sustainability science approaches; providing capacity-building for developing countries in undertaking and using research; collaborating with and supporting innovative companies to implement SDG solutions; improving diversity in research; and training students for sustainable development research.

Organizational governance, culture and operations of the university
Implementing the principles of the SDGs through governance structures and operational policies and decisions, such as those relating to employment, finance, campus services, support services, facilities, procurement, human resources, and student administration.

External leadership
Strengthening public engagement and participation in addressing the SDGs; initiating and facilitating cross-sectoral dialogue and action; ensuring higher education sector representation in national implementation; helping to design SDG-based policies; and demonstrating sector commitment to the SDGs.

Steps to Start

Through their current actions in these areas, universities already make important contributions to the achievement of the SDGs. However, for the SDGs to be truly successful at a global scale, universities need to become champions of sustainable development and play a leading role in the implementation of the SDGs.
For this, a whole-of-university approach is essential and universities can use the following steps to start and deepen their engagement with the SDGs:

1. Mapping what they are already doing
2. Building internal capacity and ownership of the SDGs
3. Identifying priorities, opportunities and gaps
4. Integrating, implementing and embedding the SDGs within university strategies, policies and plans
5. Monitoring, evaluating and communicating their actions on the SDGs

Different universities will need to approach this process in different ways, and the guide provides general tools and guidance that can be customized to different contexts and needs – including guidance on mapping, engaging with university stakeholders and senior leadership, building the business case, managing interlinkages, and reporting.
Source: Text from the executive summary from Getting Started with the SDGs in Universities.

*Professor John Thwaites, Chair of SDSN Australia/Pacific, Monash University and member of the SDSN Executive Committee and co-chair of SDSN Leadership Council.

Inspire & Get Inspired!

Get inspired by Marjan van den Belt, one of the authors of the guide Getting Started with the SDGs in Universities.

See a short interview with 3 advice on how to get started, and watch a live captured seminar focusing on getting the SDGs into action at academic institutions. Marjan van den Belt is an Ecological Economist and until recently Assistant Vice Chancellor at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, where she used the SDGs as an organizational framework. The seminar was held at the Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development, Sweden, 4 June 2018.

Soon the global SDSN will open a platform to showcase innovative cases of SDGs in Universities. Stay tuned!
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