Written by Professor Dhanjay Jhurry, Vice Chancellor of the University of Mauritius
Nature’s Editorial of 2 Jan 2020 stresses that at the current rate, most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be met by the set target date. One of the identified problems at country level is that these goals are competing with GDP goals. The Editor raises a very pertinent question: how can the 2030 Agenda be put back on the right path? It is my strong conviction that universities can and must play a more proactive and prominent role in embracing the SDGs. Why universities? Because universities train the decision-makers of tomorrow; they are viewed as independent; they can shape behavior and they champion ethics and values; universities can deal with complex problems through research and innovation.
Amidst all the challenges universities are facing - disruption, technology-driven, university-business cooperation, entrepreneurial-focused and socially-engaged, transnational education, partnerships, openness – we should nonetheless reflect on how to contribute more effectively to the SDGs and on how universities can align their actions and partnerships in a concerted manner.
At the University of Mauritius (UoM), we have been actively involved for several years in integrating sustainability science and technology across our curricula as well as extensively engaging in research pertaining to sustainability issues of national importance. The UoM’s new vision, coined in 2017, to develop a research-engaged and entrepreneurial university focused on innovation, is itself inspired from SDG 9 which is about building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable development and fostering innovation. In all our endeavours, we strive to keep the SDGs at the centre of our focus.
Recent structural changes at UoM, such as the creation of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) and the re-engineering of the Faculties of Science and Agriculture into one Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Technology (FSAT), are a leap forward for the university and the country. The mission of the FMHS is to consolidate training but also strengthen research and clinical translation for better impact in the local public health sector in line with SDG 3 targets. Bringing physical, biological, agricultural and marine sciences together enables academics to address key SDG issues such as climate change, food security and ocean matters in a more organised manner.
All our other major projects are geared towards national need and have an SDG focus. Together with the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety - Queensland (CARRS-Q) in Australia, we have set up a Road Safety Observatory at the UoM to assist Government efforts towards reducing road accidents in the country, thus contributing to the achievement of SDG goal 3.6.
Through our community-based research project on Climate-Smart Agriculture, Food Security and Poverty Alleviation we have been successful in training local farmers on sustainable farming methods for self-sufficiency. Partnering with University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) in Canada, we are in the process of launching a joint degree in Climate Change and Adaptation. UoM is also involved (as part of a consortium of eight small island state universities) in major capacity building at tertiary and professional levels to facilitate energy transition through energy efficiency and renewable energy, the two pillars of energy management. These actions address directly SDGs 1, 2, 7, 11 12, 13 and 15.
From major social actions such as tuition-free undergraduate education (SDG 4) to research projects in coastal protection and marine ecosystem conservation in partnership with the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA), the Oceans Institute of the University of Western Australia (UWA) and other partners (SDG 14), UoM is fully embracing the SDGs.
Our students have also championed SDGs in their many extracurricular activities. Their recent SDG App Cup 2020 competition, organized with industry support, saw the development of mobile app solutions supporting blood donation and donation of food and vegetables to needy families.
The UoM SDGs quarterly newsletter, launched in October 2019, helps disseminate information on SDG-related activities and sensitise the public at large on the importance of the SDGs.
It is my belief that, despite the negative impacts of Covid-19 which has disrupted the global supply chain and given rise of protectionism for some, it is not a threat to globalization as many fear. In fact, this crisis should foster partnerships and collaborative actions more than ever. Universities can and must lead the way.
Digital technologies can help a lot in enhancing partnerships post-pandemic. We recently organized a 10-day online internship programme, with the Trans Asian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TACCI) in India on ‘IoT to Product Design’ and attracted 250 students from both countries during the confinement period. This is a vivid example of new technology-enabled partnerships that can be developed with limited financial means.
The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has reminded us of the importance of values and discipline. The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) actively promotes values and respect throughout member universities. This is also important for achieving true and fruitful partnerships.
Going forward, the UoM is proposing to host an e-conference on ‘Building University Clusters for SDGs’ in November 2020. The conference goals are to pool together university partners around selected SDGs and build clusters around them with a leader university for each SDG. We invite universities to join us in this endeavour.
To conclude, it is time to act taking into account lessons drawn from the pandemic. The huge energy savings in China during lockdown and the depollution of the atmosphere gave hope to all those struggling to address climate change issues but only for a short period, unfortunately, as economic activities take over post Covid-19. Perhaps, universities can play a more prominent role in advising policy-makers how to better reconcile SDGs and GDP. The task is herculean as Governments around the world strive to put the economy back on track.
Professor Jhurry will be speaking at our Live Event - 'From Global Goals to Global Learning' - on 25 June 2020, at 9am British Summer Time.