ACU staff SDG group photo

New network on higher education and the SDGs launched

Published on 11 July 2019

A new network to boost the contribution of universities to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been launched by the ACU today.

Higher education plays a critical and unique role in addressing all 17 SDGs – this extends beyond SDG 4 (Quality education). Research generates the knowledge and innovation needed to address the most complex and intractable issues of our time. Teaching and learning shapes generations of graduates and leaders who will go on to tackle these challenges in their professional lives. Community engagement enables local partnerships and the co-production of critical knowledge.

The Commonwealth has a population of 2.4 billion – 60% of which are under the age of 30. Universities are crucial to ensuring that young people have a sustainable future. The Higher Education and the SDGs Network will connect universities across the Commonwealth in their work on the sustainable development agenda. It will also promote the critical role of higher education in tackling global challenges, and promote collaboration with other SDG initiatives within and beyond the sector – directly contributing to SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

The new network will support university efforts to directly engage in the SDG agenda – for example, through integrating sustainable development into their operations, sharing SDG learning content and materials, or developing SDG-focused research strategies. It builds on the ACU’s longstanding role as a champion of the importance of higher education in sustainable development, experience of convening networks that tackle global challenges, and engagement with existing initiatives such as the SDG Accord, SDG:Learn, and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The network was launched during the UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF), where the ACU is working in partnership with the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) and the International Association of Universities (IAU) to promote the critical role of higher education in sustainable development. Follow us on Twitter for live updates from the event.

Dr Joanna Newman, Secretary General of the ACU, said: ‘None of the 17 SDGs can be achieved without the contribution of higher education. We are proud of the work our members are doing to address the most pressing issues of our time. The Commonwealth is a living laboratory for change, and our common language and institutional structures are a solid foundation for partnerships between universities. Our 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’.

Dr Budd Hall and Dr Rajesh Tandon, Joint UNESCO Chairs in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, added: ‘We welcome the launch of the new ACU network on Higher Education and the SDGs. Universities have always had a strong civic role, and many 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’.

Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex, UK, said ‘For universities to realise their potential fully to address global challenges, they need to build equitable partnerships with other institutions and beyond the sector. The University of Sussex’s approach is co-creation for impact: working with partners to devise solutions to the problems they define. This new ACU network will provide a platform for universities to build such partnerships, as well as a collective voice to promote their involvement’.

Prof Luke Georghiou, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, UK, said ‘Universities are increasingly aligning their strategies and operations with the SDGs, becoming beacons of sustainability in their communities and countries. The University of Manchester’s new SDG strategy focuses our work in this area into a plan for impact. Sharing good practice through the new ACU network will strengthen the sector’s contribution to sustainable development, and recognition by policymakers and the wider public of its role’.

If you are a university member of staff working on your university’s engagement with the SDGs, you can register your interest in joining the Higher Education and the SDGs Network.

More information

The UN High-level Political Forum is the main United Nations platform on sustainable development. It has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the global level. Find out more

The ACU’s strategy – 'The road to 2030' – reinforces our fundamental belief that global challenges can only be solved through international collaboration, and our commitment to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through higher education.