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SDGs out of reach without HE, say uni associations

All of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without the contribution of higher education and research, three prestigious international university associations, representing more than 2,000 universities, have said in a joint statement.

Photo: ACU

ACU's new network will seek to support universities in their efforts to engage with the SDG agenda

Additionally, the Association of Commonwealth Universities has launched a network to boost the contribution of universities to the Goals.

During a Higher Education Sustainability Initiative event in New York City, the ACU, the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, and the International Association of Universities agreed that universities play a “unique role” in producing new knowledge and innovation to address the global challenges outlined in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“This new network will enable [institutions] to share good practice and expertise”

Through research, teaching, and community engagement, higher education has a “direct impact on the development of every country”, the organisations said.

In addition, the role of higher education extends beyond the SDGs’ fourth goal to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will not be achieved without partnerships that include universities,” they said.

In the statement, the networks call on the higher education sector to raise levels of attainment and access, adopt policies and practices which maximise their contribution to the 2030 Agenda and incorporate education for sustainable development into undergraduate curricula.

The SDGs’ fourth goal can only be achieved if the UN and its agencies respond to the need for “strong higher education systems globally”, they added.

The UN must recognise the contribution of higher education the agenda, and provide platforms to engage the sector as partners for development, building on the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative and UN Academic Impact Initiative.

Along with partnering with universities, national governments need to deliver well-planned long-term financial investment and “adopt a whole sector approach to the development of strong, equitable, quality education systems”.

ACU’s new network will seek to support universities in their efforts to engage with the SDG agenda, for example through integrating sustainable development into operations, sharing SDG learning content, and developing SDG-focused research strategies.

In a statement, ACU secretary-general Joanna Newman said the Commonwealth was a “living laboratory” for change.

“Our common language and institutional structures are a solid foundation for partnerships between universities,” she said.

“The new network will support collaboration between our members and act as a powerful advocacy platform to demonstrate the contribution of the higher education sector to a wider audience.”

Universities have always had a strong civic role, Budd Hall and Rajesh Tandon, Joint UNESCO Chairs in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education noted.

“Many [institutions] are already engaging directly with the SDG agenda. This new network will help showcase the great work they are already doing, and enable them to share good practice and expertise.”

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