13 July 2018

HLPF side event highlighted importance of universities to advance the SDGs

The United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) participated in the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative Global Event held on 11 July 2018 at United Nations Headquarters in New York on the margins of the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development. This article showcases some highlights of the event.

13 July 2018 - On 11 July 2018, the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative Global Event took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York on the margins of the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) is a partnership between several United Nations entities which provides universities with an interface between higher education, science, and policy making.

The Global Event aimed to showcase how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is being integrated into sustainability strategies, research, teaching, pedagogy, and campus practices, and to position higher education institutions as key drivers for achieving the SDGs. Participants included representatives from the United Nations system, governments and academia.

During his welcome remarks at the plenary segment of the event, Liu Zhenmin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, stressed that institutions of higher education "are indeed at the forefront of innovation but also act as key drivers for sustainable development and can support as well the actual implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals".

The Under-Secretary-General said that universities do so "by inspiring and providing new generations of learners with the skills, mindsets and attitudes needed to transform our societies, by supporting research and sustainable practices, and by promoting critical thinking". "Complex sustainable development challenges require solutions that involve a wide range of stakeholders, including universities", he concluded

According to Lily Gray, Liaison Officer of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) New York Office, "strong partnerships between the United Nations and universities are important to make sure learners are prepared for addressing sustainable development". Moreover, she added, "universities can contribute with their analysis, diagnosis, research and guidance even at the local level". Maria Cortes-Puch, Head of National and Regional Networks at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a partner of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), said that "universities can and will play an essential and leadership role in the implementation of the SDGs". The SDSN launched the guide entitled Getting started with the SDGs in universities last year.

To show concrete examples of the work done by academia on the SDGs, several institutions of higher education participated in the event, including UNAI member institutions such as Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico), George Mason University (United States), the University of Pennsylvania (United States), the University of Geneva (Switzerland) and the University of Bergen (Norway). Other participant universities were the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil), Georgia Tech School of City and Regional Planning (United States), the Glasgow Caledonian New York College (United States), Harvard University (United States), Montclair State University (United States), the University of Oxford (United Kingdom), the Pan African University, the Kazakh National Agrarian University (Kazakhstan) and the University of Papua New Guinea (Papua New Guinea).

Ángel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, said that one of the roles universities must play is "to educate with the purpose of having globally minded students who understand the interconnections and interdependences among our countries and the complex actions needed to address SDGs-related issues". Representatives from all institutions provided a snapshot of key elements about their work on the SDGs, among them Ignacio de la Vega from the Tecnológico de Monterrey, who highlighted the use of information and communications technologies, Professor Jean-Marc Triscone from the University of Geneva, who talked about a partnership with another UNAI member, Tsinghua University (China), offering graduate courses, a summer school and e-learning on SDGs, and Professor Eugenie Birch from the University of Pennsylvania, who noted the relevance of multidisciplinary approaches on sustainable urban development.

Orrin Summerell, Public Information Officer at the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), talked about how UNAI aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in supporting and contributing to the realization of the Organization's goals and mandates, including the promotion and protection of human rights, access to education, sustainability and conflict resolution. Summerell said that the "real innovation" is within universities themselves. "The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes that institutions of higher education are drivers of innovation and we can see it in their research, in their teaching raising awareness and improving knowledge, and in their community involvement", he said. "This multifaceted engagement with different aspects of society and the intergenerational dimension is what makes universities so important for sustainable development", he stressed.

To view the archived webcast of the conference, please click here