The United Nations’ Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is one
of the most ambitious and important global agreements in recent history. The agenda, with the 17
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at its core, is a guide to tackling the world’s most pressing
challenges – including ending poverty and bringing economic prosperity, social inclusion, environmental
sustainability and peace and good governance to all countries and all people by 2030.
There is already a strong interest in, and response to, the SDGs by governments, businesses and
organisations in most countries. The SDGs will be a major influencer on the strategies and actions of
these stakeholders – as well as on development finance flows – over the next 15 years. The SDGs also
have strong relevance to universities, and the tertiary and academic sectors more broadly.
The SDGs cover a wide range of complex social, economic, and environmental challenges and
addressing them will require transformations in how societies and economies function and how we
interact with our planet. Education, research, innovation and leadership will be essential in helping society
address these challenges. Universities, with their broad remit around the creation and dissemination of
knowledge and their unique position within society, have a critical role to play in the achievement of the
SDGs. Arguably none of the SDGs will be achieved without this sector.
Engaging with the SDGs will also greatly benefit universities by helping them demonstrate university
impact, capture demand for SDG-related education, build new partnerships, access new funding
streams, and define a university that is responsible and globally aware.
Education and research are explicitly recognised in a number of the SDGs and universities have a direct
role in addressing these. However the contribution of universities to the SDGs is much broader, as they
can support the implementation of every one of the SDGs as well as the implementation of the SDG
framework itself. Some of these main areas of contribution are:
• Learning and teaching: Providing students with the knowledge, skills and motivation
to understand and address the SDGs (broadly ‘education for sustainable development’);
providing in-depth academic or vocational expertise to implement SDG solutions; providing
accessible, affordable and inclusive education to all; providing capacity building for students and
professionals from developing countries; and empowering and mobilising young people.
• Research: Providing the necessary knowledge, evidence-base, solutions, technologies,
pathways and innovations to underpin and support the implementation of the SDGs by the
global community – through both traditional disciplinary approaches and newer interdisciplinary,
transdisciplinary and sustainability science approaches; providing capacity building for
developing countries in undertaking and using research; collaborating with and supporting
innovative companies to implement SDG solutions; improving diversity in research; and student
training for sustainable development research.
• Organisational governance, culture and operations of the university: Implementing the
principles of the SDGs through governance structures and operational policies and decisions,
such as those relating to employment, finance, campus services, support services, facilities,
procurement, human resources, and student administration.
• External leadership: Strengthening public engagement and participation in addressing the
SDGs; initiating and facilitating cross-sectoral dialogue and action; ensuring higher education
sector representation in national implementation; helping to design SDG based policies; and
demonstrating sector commitment to the SDGs.
Through their current actions in these areas, universities already make important contributions to the
achievement of the SDGs. However, for the SDGs to be truly successful at a global scale, universities
need to become champions of sustainable development and play a leading role in the implementation of