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US shines in new QS Sustainability rankings

The University of California Berkeley has swiped the top spot in the inaugural QS Sustainability Rankings. 

The rankings are the first of their kind, and a new addition to QS' rankings roster. Photo: Pexels

Entrants must be committing to the “mitigation of the climate crisis”

The new list, curated by QS as part of their suite of yearly rankings, provides students with a “unique lens” on how sustainable an institution is. 

The US features heavily in the ranking, with US institutions making up a quarter of the top 20 and 30 in the top 100: Berkeley coming first, Pennsylvania University and Yale in 8th and 9th, UC Davis at 14th and Harvard just making the top 20 in 20th. 

“The QS Sustainability Ranking provides students with an independent lens to understand the impact of the university on environmental and social issues as well as providing institutions a benchmarking tool to monitor their progress towards their sustainability goals,” Leigh Kamolins, QS director of analytics & evaluation, told The PIE News.

Also performing well is the UK, taking up another quarter of the top 20 – with the University of Edinburgh claiming the highest spot of them at fourth. 

“These rankings reflect the efforts of our staff and students in making the University of Edinburgh more environmentally and socially responsible. Our own strategy aligns the University with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and we continue to deliver positive change locally and globally through our academic research, education, operations and partnerships,” said VC and principal of the University of Edinburgh, Peter Mathieson.

QS believes the UK’s performance could be down to The Department of Education Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy 5, which was published earlier this year, and “articulated an ambitious vision” that the UK becomes the “world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030”.

“It provides institutions a benchmarking tool to monitor their progress towards their sustainability goals”

The criteria for the brand-new rankings is as stringent as ever. To even be eligible, entrants must be committing to the “mitigation of the climate crisis”; e.g. whether the institution has a policy or strategy on the topic, have a proven research culture “aligned with” the UN’s SDGs, with a minimum threshold on the amount of that research set, and appearance in QS’ World University Rankings. 

The judgement of the rankings was decided by evaluating the performance of universities in two categories – environmental impact and social impact – both equally weighted.

“We already see concerns around environmental and social impact affecting decision making of prospective students in a way that has been intensifying,” Kamolins explained.

“Data from the QS International Student Survey shows that 87% of international students consider the track record of universities in tackling issues such as the environment, gender equality, LGBTQA+ rights and anti-racism when selecting a university. However, there are few independent sources of information to understand the impact that universities are making on these issues at the current time. 

“Additionally, the survey shows that 44% of the over 3000 international students who were asked the question over the summer 2022 would prefer to enrol at a university that is environmentally friendly over a university that is ranked in the top 100 in the world,” he added.

Also performing well in the top 20 in the rankings was Canada, with the University of Toronto and University of British Columbia coming second and third respectively; Western University in London, Ontario came in at 17th.

Despite political issues on climate change, China’s performance in terms of number institutions ranked – fourth – was “hardly surprising”, given the size of the sector in the country and their current methods addressing of “sustainability challenges”.

The Nordic and Scandinavian institutions were healthily visible throughout the top 100, with two institutions from Sweden (Lund University and Uppsala University) and one from Denmark (Aarhus University) featuring in the top 20. 

The full ranking can be viewed here.

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