Published 22 April 2020
The University of Sydney has been placed first in Australia and second in the world in the new Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While all ranking systems have their pros and cons, the fact that this is one of the University’s strongest showings in any globally comparative measurement illustrates the importance and reputation of the work being done on a wide range of sustainability issues and impacts across the University.
The THE sustainability impact ranking assesses university research, outreach, and stewardship against the full range of SDGs. This global number two ranking is quite a jump for USYD; last year, the first year of this THE program, we were 25th in the world. Again, this rise illustrates the growing focus on sustainability across the faculties and multidisciplinary institutes, including contributions from the Sydney Environment Institute.
The breadth of the University’s performance is also impressive. The THE ranking is based on performance across all of the SDGs. In 2019, the University was noted for work in three areas: SDG 3 — Good Health and Wellbeing, SDG 5 — Gender Equality, and SDG 8 — Decent Work and Economic Growth. This year, in addition to the number two overall ranking, the University of Sydney was recognised in the top ten universities worldwide for contributions and impact on six different SDGs. We excelled on SDG 8 (ranked 3rd globally), and SDG 17 (8th), but also in SDG 11 — Sustainable Cities and Communities (2nd), SDG 2 — No Poverty (5th), SDG 15 — Life on Land (5th), and SDG 16 — Peace Justice and Strong Institutions (10th).
Sustainability Research at SEI
Given the growing emphasis placed on both these crucial issues and community engagement, this breadth of the University of Sydney’s strengths across the SDGs should not come as a surprise. But it is something we should be immensely proud of, especially as the SEI has fully embraced the idea of sustainability research not just for the sake of research reputation, but for real-world practice, engagement, partnerships and impact.
Of course, these rankings encompass work being done all across campus, but we at SEI contribute immensely to the research, partnerships, and community impact on a wide range of Sustainable Development Goals. Our work with the City of Sydney and NSW government on climate adaptation and resilience is focused on both developing partnerships and having a real influence on policy and practice. FoodLab Sydney is designed to address food insecurity, but also builds partnerships around sustainable cities and decent work for vulnerable populations. SEI also supports work on the impacts of mining on Indigenous communities, and colleagues were instrumental in the process that led to oil giant Equinor dropping plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight – that work began with our staff and researchers building partnerships with NGOs and the local community, and ended with real impact on the future of sustainability and sustainable development in Australia. Projects such as our ongoing work with the financial community and on energy transition address numerous SDGs simultaneously, including decent work and economic growth, industry innovation, reducing inequalities, and sustainable communities.
USYD Sustainability Strategy
Closer to home, colleagues from across SEI have also been involved in the development of the new University of Sydney Sustainability Strategy. Our involvement in this strategy is to help the University match its world-class research on sustainability with its own practices and operations. The strategy aims to actually illustrate that sustainability research can be incorporated into the very everyday life of the university, staff, and students. To be released later this year, the Sustainability Strategy will set both principles and targets for improving sustainability in operations, research, and education. This embodiment of sustainability, and the impact of our work in our own everyday environment, will not only improve the life of the campus, but will continue to illustrate our dedication to real impact in line with the ranking we’ve received.
The Times Higher Education Sustainability Impact ranking of number two in the world for the University of Sydney is an immense accomplishment. We are so proud of all of our colleagues across campus, and their community partners, as well as the contributions of the SEI community. We are dedicated to doing sustainability research for real impact, and it is heartening to see measurement and recognition of something so central to our mission.