A record 1,524 institutions from 110 countries or regions have participated in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings this year, a 23% increase since last year, reflecting the growing importance universities are attaching to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) globally.
The THE Impact Rankings 2022 ranked universities on their work towards the SDGs in 18 tables – an overall ranking and one for each of the 17 SDGs. To appear in the overall ranking table, universities must have submitted to SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals) and a minimum of three other SDGs.
The score is calculated as follows: SDG 17 – 22%, top scoring SDG – 26%, second best scoring SDG – 26%, and third best scoring SDG – 26%.
This year 17 different universities from 14 countries and regions achieve number one positions across the rankings.
The top 10 overall are Western Sydney University, Australia; followed by Arizona State University, US; Western University, Canada; King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia; Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia; University of Auckland, New Zealand; Queen’s University Canada; Newcastle University, UK; University of Manchester, UK; and Hokkaido University, Japan.
Overall top-ranked Western Sydney University’s work was recognised across the following SDG categories:
• First worldwide for SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation
• Second worldwide for SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production
• Third worldwide for SDG5: Gender Equality
• Fourth worldwide for SDG10: Reduced Inequalities
• Fifth worldwide for SDG17: Partnership for the Goals
• Ninth worldwide for SDG14: Life below Water
• Tenth worldwide for SDG15: Life on Land
• Fifteenth worldwide for SDG3: Good Health and Well-being
• Fifteenth worldwide for SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Western Sydney University Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Barney Glover said the university is committed to tackling society’s grand challenges and supporting a more just and equitable world.
“It is an immensely proud moment in the university’s history to see our sector-leading efforts to drive important social transformation recognised,” said Glover.
“As an anchor institution we are embedded in the economic, cultural and social life of Greater Western Sydney – a region experiencing first-hand many of the sustainability and resilience challenges of the 21st century, including rapid urban growth, urban heat and entrenched inequalities.
“Beyond the region, many of our world-leading education and research programmes and collaborative international partnerships are also making significant impact to reducing inequality and addressing issues like food and water security around the world.
“Social justice, inclusive education, addressing inequality, environmental stewardship and resilience – these are all core to our mission. We are committed to delivering action in all these areas and fostering the next generation of thought leaders and civic-minded citizens who can solve these complex challenges.”
US’s Arizona State University is second in the world overall and number one for three SDGs: sustainable cities and communities; life below water; and life on land. ASU was also fourth for climate action, sixth for no poverty, seventh for clean water and ninth for peace, justice and strong institutions.
ASU President Michael Crow said: “Our health and the health of our planet are intertwined — each is dependent on the other. There is no ‘us’ without the Earth; it’s as simple as that. How do we undo some of the damage that has been done? How do we redefine solutions that are useful throughout society? How do we rethink the very role of the university to secure a healthy, positive future for every creature on this planet?
“That is what we’re aiming to do here at ASU — working toward solutions that benefit all, not just an elite few, and producing the type of knowledge and connections that will help us change the present trajectory that we’re on. There is urgency in what we do, but also a great deal of hope.”
Third overall, Western University, Canada, was placed in the top five in the world for four SDGs: no poverty, zero hunger, life below water, and peace, justice and strong institutions, and improved its global ranking in 13 of the 17 SDGs.
Alan Shepard, Western University president, said: “Universities need to take a leadership role in practising and promoting sustainability in our society and Western is proud to be among those institutions making a difference.
“Embedding sustainability across the university is a key part of Western’s strategic plan. We’re working hard to entrench sustainability across our operations, our research endeavours and in our teaching and we’re thrilled by the dedication our campus community has shown in moving these initiatives forward.
“Our researchers are working to create healthier watersheds, develop super-efficient battery technologies, and discover better ways for businesses to operate sustainably. More than ever, our students are learning how sustainability intersects with their areas of study.”
Lynn Logan, vice president of operations and finance, Western University, said Western has been actively transforming campus open spaces, updating its infrastructure with the latest and most efficient technologies, following sustainable design practices when renovating or planning new buildings, and aggressively pursuing the decarbonisation of its investment portfolio, “all with the aim of reducing our carbon footprint and becoming more environmentally sustainable”.
Not dominated by US institutions
Unlike general university world rankings, the top of the Impact Rankings is not dominated by US institutions. The top ten include two each from Canada and the UK, and one each from Australia, US, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Japan.
The UK has the most universities in the top 100 of the overall table at 20. Australia is close behind with 17 in the top 100, followed by 16 in Canada and seven in New Zealand. But the US has just five.
Africa, meanwhile, has two world top-100 universities in the overall ranking – Egypt’s Aswan University in 67th, and South Africa’s University of Johannesburg in 69th place.
Overall in the rankings, Japan is the second most represented nation, followed by Pakistan and Turkey.
Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE, said: “The THE Impact Rankings are redefining excellence in global higher education – based on how universities are improving our world, not on traditional measures such as wealth and scholarly prestige.
“It is inspiring to see such a large, diverse and rapidly growing community of universities from all continents committed to subjecting themselves to scrutiny, to measure and demonstrate their impact and to showcase best practice in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.”
According to THE, its Impact Rankings is the only global ranking system measuring universities’ contributions to the United Nations’ SDGs, and assessing university commitment to sustainability across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach and teaching. Progress is measured for each of the individual 17 SDGs, as well as across the goals as a whole.
Ellen Hazelkorn, a rankings expert, writing in University World News this week, says SDGs have become a very powerful policy and strategic influencer on governments and institutions as well as for research and other agencies. “They have transformed policy agendas and practices everywhere.”
However, she argued that the absence of the world’s elite in this ranking “may not be due to their poor(er) performance but rather their choice not to participate”, and that one potential weakness in the THE Impact Rankings process is its heavy reliance on “self-reported and interpreted data”.
Baty pointed to the trend that students, as well as governments, are increasingly demanding commitments to the SDGs, and the “fresh approach” of the Impact Rankings, as well as allowing universities outside the traditional Western elites to “shine as beacons”, is giving students more choice when thinking about where to study.
Increase in programmes on SDGs
THE reported this week that among those ranked, 1,256 universities across 105 countries are offering dedicated education programmes that address sustainability. These range from full degree programmes to non-accredited short courses focused on sustainability and the UN SDGs.
This is a new metric for SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals) in the Impact Rankings this year. The total of 1,256 institutions offering such courses amounts to 87% of institutions that submitted data on SDG 17.
Among countries’ universities participating in the SDG 17 table, 98% of UK universities received full points for this metric, as did all 24 Canadian universities, 10 Irish universities, all eight from New Zealand, all seven from Germany and all five from Sweden.
Below is a round-up of performance highlights by region provided by THE.
• Africa has two world top-100 universities in the overall ranking (Egypt’s Aswan University in 67th, and South Africa’s University of Johannesburg in 69th place). Nigeria has two world top-400 universities overall, while Tunisia and Uganda make the world top-600 list.
• South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand is number one for SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), while the University of Johannesburg is third for SDG 1 (no poverty) and eighth for SDG 8.
• Egypt’s Ain Shams University takes third place in the world for its contribution to SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation).
• Japan features in the world top 10 and is the second most-represented nation across all the rankings, with 84 universities participating. Seventy-six of those institutions are included in the overall ranking. Hokkaido University makes the global top 10 at 10th place, while Kyoto University is joint 19th.
Seven Japanese universities make the top 200 globally – the joint highest of any Asian country (on a par with Thailand). Japan performs particularly strongly for SDG 2 (zero hunger); Hokkaido tops this table, while Kyoto is third. Kobe University is eighth for SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).
• Mainland China: Fudan University leads the country’s representatives in its debut year in the overall ranking, taking joint 27th position. It also claims the number one spot for SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), second place for SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and seventh place for SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).
The country has four universities in the overall top 400. Southern University of Science and Technology is ninth for SDG 8. Shanghai University ranks joint 21st for SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), while five other Chinese universities make the top 100 of this table.
• India breaks through into the world top 50, with Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham claiming 41st place in the overall table and eighth place for SDG 3 (good health and well-being) and SDG 5 (gender equality). Lovely Professional University makes the top 100 at joint 74th place in the overall table and is sixth for SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy).
India is the joint fourth most-represented nation across the rankings, with 64 universities featuring in total (the same number as Turkey). Shoolini University of Biotechnology and Management Sciences is second in the world for SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), and sixth for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), while KIIT University is joint eighth for SDG 10 (reduced inequalities).
• Indonesia’s flagship institution, the University of Indonesia, features in the global top-20 at 18th place, while Universitas Gadjah Mada makes the top 100 of the overall ranking at 87th. Indonesian institutions also feature in the top 10s for SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy).
• Pakistan is the third most-represented nation across all the rankings, with 66 institutions taking part. Sixty-three of these make the overall ranking, including one in the top 200: National University of Sciences and Technology in the 101-200 band. The institution is also fourth in the world for SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy).
• Taiwan is home to two universities in the global top-40 of the overall table: National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) is joint 33rd, while National Taiwan University (NTU) is joint 37th. Taipei Medical University takes third place globally for SDG 3 (good health and well-being), while Kaohsiung Medical University is ninth for SDG 3; NCKU is eighth for SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy); and NCKU and NTU share fifth place for SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure).
• Thailand’s top performer is Chulalongkorn University at joint 16th in the overall ranking and 10th for SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals). Chiang Mai University also features in the world top 100 at joint 70th place and is number one globally for SDG 5 (gender equality). Seven Thai universities make the top 200 globally – the joint highest of any Asian country (on a par with Japan).
• The United Kingdom is one of only two countries to claim more than one position in the overall world top 10 (Canada is the other nation); Newcastle University is eighth, while the University of Manchester is ninth, as Northern powerhouses outshine the golden triangle formed by the university cities of Cambridge, London and Oxford.
The UK also has the most universities in the top 100 of the overall ranking at 20.
UK institutions feature in the top 10s for SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 14 (life below water), SDG 15 (life on land), SDG 16 (peace justice and strong institutions) and SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals).
Six of the top-10 places for SDG 12 are taken by UK universities, while the country claims five of the top-10 places for SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals), including the number one spot (University of Liverpool, in joint place with Universiti Sains Malaysia).
• Brazil is home to one top-100 representative in the overall ranking: the University of São Paulo takes joint 62nd place. The university is also ranked fifth globally for SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy). The nation is in the top-10 most represented countries in the overall ranking (eighth), with 48 institutions.
• Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University ranks joint fourth globally, making it the joint highest institution in an emerging economy to feature in the overall ranking (on a par with Universiti Sains Malaysia).
Two Saudi universities feature in the top 10s for SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 5 (gender equality), while one Saudi representative makes the top 10s for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 13 (climate action).
• Turkey is the joint fourth most-represented nation across the rankings, with 64 universities featuring in total (the same number as India). Two of these make the top 200 of the overall table: Istanbul Technical University and Middle East Technical University, both in the 101-200 band.
• Universities in Egypt and Jordan make the top 10 for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation): Ain Shams University is third and Al-Ahliyya Amman University is fourth. Egypt’s Aswan University is also seventh for SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy).
• World top-200 positions (in the 101-200 range) overall for: Lebanon (American University of Beirut); Jordan (Al-Ahliyya Amman University); Iran (Iran University of Medical Sciences); Bahrain (Ahlia University) and Palestine (An-Najah National University), as well as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
• United States: Arizona State University is the US’s top representative, placing second in the world in the overall ranking and topping three of the individual SDG tables: 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land). It also features in the top 10s for SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).
Iowa State University and Michigan State University rank joint sixth for SDG 2 (zero hunger); University at Buffalo is eighth for SDG 13; and University of South Florida and Penn State University feature in the top 10 for SDG 14.
• Canada is one of only two countries to claim more than one position in the overall world top 10 (the UK is the other nation): Western University is third, while Queen’s University is seventh. Meanwhile, 10 Canadian universities make the top 50 (joint highest with the UK) and 16 make the top 100 (behind only the UK and Australia).
Canada performs particularly strongly for SDG 1 (no poverty), claiming six of the top-10 places, including first and second place (Western University and Queen’s University respectively). Canada’s University of British Columbia is also joint top for SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), while five Canadian universities make the top 10 for SDG 2 (zero hunger) and four make the top 10 for SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).
• An Australian university tops the Impact Rankings: Western Sydney University is number one globally in the overall table and also number one for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation). The University of Tasmania tops SDG 13 (climate action). Three Australian universities feature in the top 10s for SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals). Seventeen Australian universities are ranked in the top 100 of the overall table, behind only the UK with 20.
• New Zealand has one top-10 representative in the overall table: the University of Auckland is sixth. Seven out of New Zealand’s eight representatives make the global top 100. The University of Canterbury is number one for SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production).