Higher education on sustainability needs major scale up to achieve impact

Text by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) received recognition for excellence in Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reporting during the 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, arranged by PRME. While SSE has made substantial progress in aligning its teaching, research and outreach to sustainable development, it was inspiring to meet and learn from universities around the world at the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) Global Event at HLPF 2018. The objective was to review how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the SDGs, is being integrated into sustainability strategies, research, teaching, pedagogy, and campus practices.

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HESI was created in 2012 with partnership between United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNESCO, United Nations Environment, UN Global Compact’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative, United Nations University (UNU), UN-HABITAT, UNCTAD, and UNITAR. Given its association with the United Nations, HESI provides higher education institutions with a unique interface between higher education, science, and policy making.

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The speakers were animated as they shared ways of operationalizing SDGs in education and research. A reoccurring theme was the need for investment both in terms of time and finances. Some universities had freed up to 20 per cent of their faculty’s time to operationalize SDGs into research and teaching. However, based on the discussions that followed it was clear that they were outliers to the norm.

Academics, librarians, UN officials and vice-chancellors presented some excellent examples of courses, curriculum, teaching and research. Maria Cortes-Puch, of the SDG Academy made a particularly impressive presentation. The SDG Academy is a knowledge cloud that provides a collection of free online course on Sustainable Development, prepared by international experts. Cara Smyth of the Fair Fashion Center, discussed ways in which they were developing and targeting their teaching, research and outreach for Sustainable Fashion.  This was particularly relevant to us given our own research at Misum/SSE on Monetization of Circular Economy benefits in the fashion and clothing industry. The Swedish fashion industry has demonstrated an increasing commitment towards circular economy. The objective of Misum’s project is to make a business case for a bio-based circular economy within the clothing and textile industry, showing that it is possible to increase profitability while moving towards circular economy.

Access to quality education for all (SDG 4), was also emphasized. Concerns were raised about quality education becoming  a function of ones’ income or zip code.

While HESI is successfully galvanizing the academic resources and community towards operationalizing Agenda 2030, it is beleaguered by the same problems that plague the SDGs: the lack of investments and finances; limited outreach capacity; lopsided development with a skew towards developed countries etc. In my assessment HESI is still in its nascent stage and requires a major scaling up of its activities, to achieve the global impact that it has the potential to reach.

Speakers: Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations; Cara Smyth, Vice-President and Founding Director of the Fair Fashion Center, Glasgow Caledonian New York College; Angel Cabrera, President, George Mason University Bruce Stiftel, Professor, Georgia Tech School of City and Regional Planning; Amy Tu, Montclair State University; Athanasios Giannakopoulos, Dag Hammarskjöld Library; Orrin F. Summerell, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) initiative; Nikhil Seth, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Director of UNITAR; Ignacio de la Vega, Dean, EGADE Business School, Tecnologico de Monterrey; Alex Wright, Head of Policy, Association of Commonwealth Universities;Jean-Marc Triscone, Vice Rector, Geneva University, Geneva Tsinghua Initiative for the Sustainable Development Goals; Yang Bin, Vice Rector, Tsinghua University; Eugenie Birch, Professor, University of Pennsylvania; Chalapan Kaluwin, Acting Dean of Natural and Physical Science, University of Papua New Guinea, Centre for Climate Change and Sustainable Development; Maria Cortes-Puch, Head, National and Regional Networks, Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

 

Written by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

 

 

 

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