The start of 2020 marked the beginning of a decade of action to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ironically, it also marked the beginning of a global crisis that would transform the methods, magnitude and speed of action to achieve them. Among many others, universities have already taken their place at the frontline of this transformation. Across the world, universities have been an all-of-society melting pot for research, innovation, advisory, and development. This gives them the ability to lead massive change for the SDGs and support other entities in society to do the same. To recognize and measure the impact of universities on advancing the SDGs, The Times Higher Education created the Global University Impact Rankings that capture progress made by universities to date and identify opportunities for future action.
Out of a total 766 universities from 85 countries assessed for the 2020 Impact Rankings Report, 4 of the top 20 universities leading action on the SDGs are based in Canada. These universities include the University of British Columbia (ranking 7th), our very own host University of Waterloo (ranking 16th), McMaster University (ranking 17th) and Simon Fraser University (ranking 19th). These universities made particularly strong contributions to SDG 14 (life below water), SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), respectively. Other universities like Western University, University of Calgary and University of Toronto follow in close suite. Impressively, these three universities are currently leading major progress on SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), with the University of Toronto recording a perfect score of 100 on that SDG.
Today, universities are charting unfamiliar waters as they try to advance the SDGs in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic. Despite the challenges this situation brings, they know that a positive response cannot be made without honouring core aspects of the SDGs such as innovation, working in collaboration and leaving no one behind. As such, our current circumstance heightens rather than undermines university contributions to the SDGs. It offers the space and urgency to produce more research, commitment and collaboration for the SDGs than ever before and provides an opportunity to build back better in our pursuit to create the future we want by 2030.