As part of the 9th World Sustainability Forum on 13–15 September 2021, UNU-IAS presented in a session on the topic Higher Education & Research — How Universities around the World Engage with Sustainability and Build Partnerships for the SDGs. Organised by the International Association of Universities (IAU), the session focused on the role of higher education in sustainable development and how collaboration between universities and higher education institutions (HEIs) can be increased.
Jonghwi Park (Academic Programme Officer and Head of the Innovation and Education programme, UNU-IAS) presented examples of partnerships within the higher education sector and across sectors. Her presentation, “Cross-sectoral Partnerships in Higher Education and Why We Need Them for Sustainable Development” highlighted the essential role of these partnerships for the higher education sector in working with local communities and translating research findings into local actions.
Dr. Park shared examples from the global network of 181 Regional Centres of Expertise (RCEs) on Education for Sustainable Development, highlighting that 54% of projects conducted by RCEs during the Global Action Programme on education for sustainable development (ESD) had been led by local universities. These projects were recently showcased in the UNU-IAS publication Tackling Climate Action at the Local Level: Education for Sustainable Development Projects from the Global RCE Network.
Examples were also shared from the Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research network (ProSPER.Net), an alliance of 50 universities in the Asia-Pacific region for which UNU-IAS serves as the secretariat. These included joint projects on disaster risk reduction (DRR) education and the integration of the SDGs as a joint degree programme.
Dr. Park emphasised the increasing demand for higher education, and the need to ensure the system is inclusive and provides equal access for all. UNU-IAS is working to realise this vision in its postgraduate degree programmes, by mobilising the private sector and development partners to provide scholarships for students from developing countries, in order to foster and support the growth of young leaders and researchers for sustainable development.
The key message of the session was that leaving no one behind — the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — depends on ensuring education for all. In closing, Hilligje van’t Land (Secretary-General, IAU) stressed the need to continue connecting in different ways in order to build bridges globally and to improve cooperation mechanisms together.