Session highlights

“Our hunch is that the SDGs can help us better understand and steer a university’s contribution to its local area or region. There’s this idea floating around of a Civic University, the idea is to create an SDG-inflected version of that to try to specify and nail down this concept a bit more.” Graham Long – Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University, UK 

  • Research by Newcastle University in association with the ACU’s 'Higher Education and the SDG Network' has shown universities across the world interested in improving their reporting on progress towards SDG targets face a complex set of options, including institutional reviews, reporting to initiatives like the SDG Accord, and performance in league tables. There is both growing interest and competition among institutions in this area as a result, said Professor Phil McGowan, Chair of the SDG Committee at Newcastle University, UK.
  • Professor Dhanjay Jhurry, Vice-Chancellor, University of Mauritius, suggested that a more effective approach to achieving SDG targets in higher education would be for universities to start with the goals and "try to move backwards" from them to considering what contribution they can make and how, rather than the other way around.  
  • In breakout sessions speakers and delegates observed that while universities are taking SDG targets very seriously, there was a greater tendency to focus on environmental SDG concerns and less on the social aspects. Universities are also facing problems with measuring and communicating their progress. 
  • Dr Farai Kapfudzaruwa, Strategic International Partnerships, University of Pretoria, South Africa, said that it's important to support smaller, underresourced universities working on the SDGs. It's also valuable to measure these activities, as "it ensures accountability within institutions and...they're more likely to engage in decisions." 

Session summary

Universities are increasingly looking to define and articulate their contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals. This is reflected in efforts to align university strategies and agendas – for research, teaching and learning, and wider operations – to the SDGs, but also in a growth in review – (for example, universities conducting ‘Voluntary University Reviews’), reporting (e.g. to initiatives such as the SDG Accord), and ranking (e.g. the Times Higher Impact rankings) of universities’ responses to the SDGs.

The SDGs identify both global and local challenges. This masterclass will explore how universities are currently contributing to SDG delivery and review at both global and local level, and to better understand how universities could or should contribute in the future. It will draw on research by Newcastle University in association with the ACU’s 'Higher Education and the SDG Network', with case studies and insight from across the diversity of the Commonwealth. Participants will gain a deeper understanding of the following questions:

  • What are the benefits of measuring your university’s local and global contribution to the SDGs?
  • Which approach(es) are most valuable in effectively informing university decision making and performance? How does this differ by mission, operational context and resource setting?
  • How can universities civic role be understood in terms of the SDGs, and how this might guide Universities’ local level engagement around the SDGs? 
  • How can we make sure the right behaviours and priorities are recognised and valued?

Contributing to this masterclass will be:

  • Meriel Flint-O’Kane – Head of Programmes, Association of Commonwealth Universities
  • Prof Phil McGowan – Chair, SDG Committee, Newcastle University, UK (ACU SDG Network Co-Chair)
  • Prof. Pamela Dube – Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Western Cape, South Africa (ACU SDG Network Co-Chair)
  • Prof Dhanjay Jhurry – Vice-Chancellor, University of Mauritius & ACU Council Member
  • Dr Vincent Lomotey – Registrar, C.K. Tedum University of Technology & Applied Sciences, Ghana
  • Dr Farai Kapfudzaruwa – Strategic International Partnerships, University of Pretoria, South Africa
  • Graham Long – Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University, UK
  • Catherine Moran – Assistant Vice-Chancellor Academic, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

External links