Strengthening higher education’s role in achieving the SDGs

SOURCE: Johannes Eisele / AFP
People enjoy refreshing water of a fountain in the Unisphere fountain at Flushing Meadow Corona Park in the borough of Queens on July 21, 2019 in New York City.

By U2B Staff 

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Universities understand their importance and their role in making the world a more just and equitable place for all. Among the many initiatives, research partnerships, and collaborations that work to make this possible, the University Global Compact (UGC) is perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching.

Established in partnership with the United Nations, the group focus their efforts on recognising the Sustainable Development Goals and creating a “sustainable future for all.”

The UGC just got a new addition after Canada’s McGill University announced it was joining the group on Sunday at a reception in New York City, where the UN Climate Summit was just kicking off.

World leaders unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 and agreed to use it as a global agreement and a roadmap to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. The aim to reach the end goal is set for 2030.

sustainable development goals
The General Assembly Hall is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 in the United Nations General Assembly Hall September 23, 2019 in New York City. Source: Timothy A. Clary / AFP

“It is a privilege for McGill University to join the University Global Compact,” McGill’s Principal Fortier said at the event.

“Sustainability is a priority for McGill, both in the knowledge that we create and share through our academic mission, and in how we operate day to day. We share with our peer institutions a special obligation to guide society in its global sustainability efforts—and the University Global Compact will be an important platform for us to achieve that.”

For the world to succeed in reaching the ambitious goals set out by the UN, the input of higher education is absolutely essential. Not only does the sector produce the vast majority of research upon which both local and international policy is set, they are also responsible for shaping the next generation of leaders.


The UGC recognises this and sees it as their imperative duty to ensure that generation are capable leaders with a solid grasp on the issues.

The objectives to which the group have committed include increasing students’ understanding of the most pressing challenges; developing the global competence and leadership skills students need to effectively collaborate across cultural and national boundaries; engaging in actionable research, knowledge sharing, and innovation in collaboration with local and international organisations; engaging with private and public actors in leading, guiding and supporting local, national and global responses to the SDGs; and communicating publicly the group’s progress and being accountable for outcomes.

sustainable development goals
Youth activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations on September 23, 2019 in New York City. Source: Stephanie Keith / Getty Images / AFP

Getting straight down to business, the UGC held its inaugural “17 Rooms-U”  at Rutgers University on Monday. The event brings together more than 150 faculty champions, thought leaders, students, and stakeholders to discuss solutions and plan actions to address the issues.

One of those universities in attendance was Georgia Tech, whose president is a big advocate for the work the group can and has achieved.

“Universities around the world are essential in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. They conduct research that can lead to new solutions, they educate professionals and leaders who are prepared to enact those solutions, and they are trusted conveners of other stakeholders,” President Ángel Cabrera said.

“It is exciting to see higher education getting organised to better collaborate in support of the Goals, and the 17 Rooms event will help us identify ways to have the greatest possible impact.”