Universities for SDGs implementation: first global forum’s ideas

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Sustainable growth has become an important part of the modern political economy: a vital component in policy’s transformation is education and teaching sustainability. To make this teaching meaningful and in line with the socio-economic needs, new forms of teaching and learning are necessary to deal with SDGs complexities, ambiguities and often uncertainties. Old patterns of “education-as-usual” shall be turned into presently required sustainable learning.

Global trends in research and innovation (R&I) have involved universities too: innovation-driven high-schools are facing dramatic changes in adapting universities’ potentials in general and sustainable education to make a substantial contribution in achieving the SDGs. With less than 10 years left to the SDGs declared “final destination”, as proposed in the UN-2030 Agenda, the global education and R&I community has to mobilise collective actions for prompt and feasible actions.

Universities around the world are here to play an active and essential role in forging a sustainable future through including SDG’s teaching in curricular making it a focal point in transition to a sustainable socio-economic development.

Teaching in SDGs is changing very fast because of the issue’s urgency and the necessity of using new teaching models in line with the double transition in growth: i.e. digital and circular. However, aligning with teaching staff, students and researchers in producing common position and views on SDGs implementation some common approaches to teaching SDGs are needed to adapt to new realities. Thus, alongside transformations in entrepreneurship, where “business-as-usual” are no longer feasible, radical changes in the “education-as-usual” are necessary and inevitable for the states in perspective growth. 


Educating for a sustainable future

Education is the fundamental force that can raise students and the general public’s awareness of sustainable growth and facilitate socio-economic transition. High schools have to adapt quickly and proactively to the new SDGs’ educational paradigm while fully harnessing new SDGs distinctive educational environment.

Through a series of themed courses and international programs, which are presently available at various online platforms, including SDG-Academy’s education materials, a modern university has to refer to the existing facilities available at the sustainable development solutions network.    

Source: https://sdgstoday.org/education  

For example, in “teaching SDGs” there are 4 lessons (see more in: https://learn.arcgis.com/en/paths/sdg-4-quality-education/  

Meanwhile, in line with emerging technology trends, it is necessary to break through the constraints of conventional education by exploring digitalization’s tools by virtual, interactive and future-facing learning paradigms. Partly in this way, the teaching sustainability will seek to prototype innovative and sustainable models of education.

As a result of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by UN member states at the end of 2015, sustainable development solutions networks (SDSN) are functioning; they are most active in Europe, where the “SDSN Europe” expert community includes about 450 members, mostly from universities and research centers.


Global SDG forum

University presidents –totally 58 rectors/presidents from 30 countries across six continents – delivered a statement of “Global University Leaders” on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to working together to implement  the SDGs. The first global online forum for university presidents on the role of universities in implementing SDGs was hosted by Zhejiang University in China on March 24, 2021; the forum was live-streamed to more than one million viewers around the world via different social media platforms.

Among the world’s top 50 universities as ranked by the World University Rankings, 80 percent have already developed their university-level sustainability strategies, plans and/or operational activities.

The Global University Leaders’ initiative includes five key aspects to activate SDGs: 1. Implementing the concept of sustainable development across the universities’ activities and operations; 2. Improving sustainable development competence and empowering students, faculty and staff with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to understand and address the SDGs; 3. Supporting a wider spectrum of transdisciplinary research in response to SDG’s challenges; 4. Fostering innovative solutions and leveraging technology for sustainable development by engaging governments, civil society and private sector; and 5. Upholding open science to facilitate constructive cross-border collaboration to solve specific SDGs problems.

See more in: http://www.zju.edu.cn/english/2021/0324/c19573a2270971/page.htm

One of the forums’ optional recommendation is to create a “governing body” capable of fully respecting global/regional specifics to formulate a generally applicable SDGs content in modern teaching.


SDG teaching: main challenges and EU’s approach

Teaching in SDGs is subject to quick changes and transformations: both because of the issue’s urgency and the necessity of new teaching models’ transition; however, aligning with teaching staff and researchers is needed to elaborate a common position for some common approaches to teaching SDGs with due respect for national/regional variations.

The 17 SDGs have had specific targets -169 in total -to be achieved by 2030. Although all the SDGs are among the universities’ priorities, some of them are definitely of a more vital importance. In this sense, the SDGs for the states’ governance can be divided into two big groups, i.e. general and sectoral.

In the general group there could be about nine SDGs: such as sustainable economic growth (SDG-8), sustainable infrastructure and innovation (SDG-9), sustainable consumption and production (SDG-12), climate change (SDG-13), oceans and marine resources (SDG-14), terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity (SDG-15), gender equality (SDG-5), and inclusive societies (SDG-16).

In the “sectoral group”, there could be such SDGs as: sustainable agriculture (2), quality education (4), water management (6), as well as sustainable energy and cities (7 and 11) and promoting health and well being (SDG-3). This “division” is purely subjective and is based on the SDGs’ “generic importance” with a view to design some specific educational research areas in SDGs implementation. Sustainability is both a new and complicated issue for the national governance; alongside educating the public on all “ingredients” in the sustainability (circular economy, green growth and nature protection, to name a few) all states have to develop their own national SDGs implementation plans and strategies.   

Thus, both existing education institutions and teaching methods shall be re-assessed fundamentally: higher education institutions shall teach the necessary skills for SDGs; the teaching methods shall be adapted to the needed general and professional skills to practically implement SDGs and targets in the transformed socio-economic policies. Long-term professional and vocational education/training shall be available through people’s life span. All national middle- and high- education institutions shall provide valuable examples for teaching future decision-makers providing them with the necessary skills. 

For example, cross-sectoral approaches to syllabus and curricular shall cross-faculty approach to new knowledge system to include SDGs components and system’s thinking. Besides, the following aspects shall be considered: “teach-the-teachers” about the SDGs requirements; develop new e-learning skills in SDGs; developing partnerships with other universities in teaching SDGs; providing coordination among national political, economic, business, cultural and educational authorities to facilitate the SDGs implementation, as well as an exchange of positive practices.  

More in: Eteris E. Teaching sustainability: modern challenges. – Lambert Academic Publ. 2019, available in the net.


Sustainability’s efforts in the EU have been active recently: in January 2019, the European Commission presented a reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030” which showed the EU states’ progress in implementing SDGs and identified some priorities in moving forward. Among the vital priorities are: – developing a fully circular economy, – creating a sustainable food system, – making steps to “green energy”, – sustainable mobility, tourism and construction sector, to name a few. Besides, the states have to “gear all horizontal policy tools”: from education and digitisation to finance and taxation, towards sustainability transition.

More in the Commission reflection paper: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-19-701_en.htm; additional source: European Union’s progress report-2019 on sustainable development, 2019. In: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/modern_eu/?doc=150343&ins_print 

Besides, the following sources can be used for references: – “Sustainable Europe by 2030” in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/publications/reflection-paper-towards-sustainable-europe-2030_en; and additional info on the Agenda-2030 in:



Zhejiang University’s Sustainability Action Plan 

In order to enhance our engagement with the SDGs, Zhejiang University (ZJU, China) has adopted a Sustainability Action Plan: A Global ZJU for Social Good (Z4G). Z4G establishes five objectives and associated actions to improve sustainability-related education, research, and practices.

  • Ensure that the concept of sustainability is deeply rooted in the campus culture; ZJU will disseminate knowledge and best practices on sustainability through its global network.
    • Strive to nurture “visionary and responsible citizens who will be able to meet the future needs of sustainable development” via themed courses and international programs.
    • Create a “university-centered ecosystem characterized by interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral interactions” to drive technological advances and inform national sectoral growth policy-making;
    • Embrace the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, promote sharing of scientific knowledge and expand and deepen partnerships to foster a “strong network comprising academia, government and the private sector, allowing to take a co-operative approach to regional and global development challenges”.
    • Transform ZJU into a “leader of low-carbon action” and turn its campuses into “resource-conserving and environmentally friendly living laboratories”.

Source: http://www.zju.edu.cn/english/2021/0324/c19573a2270982/page.htm; and https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20210331092107403


That kind of approach is beginning to appear at schools that marshal existing resources into skill-centric programs designed to help students find a job; often teachers in universities navigate students through open source materials, align them with SDGs principles to create an open source curriculum to meet student needs for a perspective occupation.

More in: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20210329143743399

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