The University of Auckland’s commitment to sustainability and positive social impact has seen it take the number one spot in new global rankings. The Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Ratings measure how well educational institutions are delivering on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The THE Impact Rankings are the first global attempt to measure the broader impact universities have on society, and the difference they make in the world. Universities’ impacts are assessed by measuring them against some of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals were adopted in 2016 to provide a framework for developing the world in a sustainable way.
University of Auckland Director of Planning Pamela Moss and Senior Planning Analyst Dr Jingwen Mu collated and submitted the data which determined the top ranking. They say that while they knew the university would do well, the number one ranking was a huge boost for the university and recognition of the positive work being done through teaching and research.
“Students, and the population in general, are becoming increasingly concerned about the social impact of the Western world on the rest of the world, and this is one-way universities can measure how they are moderating that impact, and how they are contributing to broader social goals,” says Moss. “This is a useful way of comparing where we stand.” The SDGs are goals that go well beyond the environmental sustainability policies increasingly practised by many institutions.
“We have had a sustainability office and been involved in reducing the amount of paper and water we use and those kinds of things, but this achievement has brought into focus the wider ambit of the impact ratings. Sustainability in terms of the United Nations STGs is much, much broader than that,” she says.
The inaugural rankings were across a narrower group of the UN’s full 17 goals, with the University of Auckland presenting particularly well in Good Health and Well-Being, Gender Equality, Reduced Inequalities, Quality Education, and Partnerships to achieve the goals. Moss says the fact the university has had very strong policies around equity for a long time stood it in good stead. It rated well in terms of the number of female academics employed and the proportion of female students – an area many universities around the world still struggle in. “We expect that for New Zealand. We were the first country to give women the vote after all,” says Moss.
Alongside gender equity, the university was able to reference the value it places on family equity, with the university promoting itself as a family-friendly place to work. High numbers of students who are the first in their family to study at tertiary level were an example of a commitment to reducing inequality across society.
“The university has always had scholarships to allow the quite high proportion of our population who are first in family coming into a degree to have the opportunity to study. Our strategic plan is very strong on those areas.” A very high proportion of graduates in health professions illustrated the university’s commitment to the Good Health and Well-being goal, alongside the enormous amount of research that takes place across the health sciences. Hand-in-hand with research projects comes a commitment to partnerships, which is the United Nations’ 17th SDG. “In terms of research collaborations, more than half of the university’s publications have a co-author overseas,” says Mu. “We are doing extensive research with other institutions overseas.”
The University of Auckland is also a member of global networks striving to work towards sustainable development and provide solutions and policies for some of the challenges the world is currently facing. These include the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the UN Habitat Network.
“For some of these partnerships, we are the only New Zealand university that is part of them,” says Mu. Being rated first in the inaugural THE Sustainability Ranking shows the University is not only New Zealand’s top-ranked university academically but is also committed to fulfilling its role in a sustainable way. Mu says when it came to collect the supporting data, it was encouraging to see that see that many of the university’s sustainable policies had existed for a long period of time.
“Even before there were such concepts as Sustainable Development Goals, we were already doing a lot of great things,” she says.