Strong focus on SDGs intensifies university collaborations

The strong performance of Indonesian universities in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings shows that universities in developing countries can compete well with their counterparts in developed countries.

Inclusion in the Impact Ranking, which assesses universities’ work in addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also “encourages so-called research for impact, which results in innovations that directly benefit society”, says Arif Satria, rector of IPB University.

The standout performance by an Indonesian institution in this year’s rankings, released in April, was the University of Indonesia (UI), ranking in the world’s top 10, at ninth, for research and action to eradicate poverty.

SDG 1 (No poverty) aims to eradicate every form of extreme poverty, currently measured as people living on less than $US1.25 a day, by 2030. It includes ensuring that the poor and the vulnerable have equal rights to economic resources, access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, as well as appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.

Other SDGs address ending hunger, ensuring healthy lives, ending inequality, reducing inequality, providing good quality education, encouraging employability, taking action on climate change and threats to biodiversity, and promoting peaceful, inclusive societies.

Universities are called to work together to find solutions for these world problems.

UI is followed by a strong performance by other Indonesian universities on the ‘Zero hunger’ SDG – IPB University (Bogor Agricultural University), Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Padjadjaran University and Brawijaya University respectively in 11th, 16th, 32nd and 34th position for the ‘Zero hunger’ SDG in the Impact Rankings.

‘Zero hunger’ includes action on food security, improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture. For example, on 25 August, the UI planted a thousand trees on campus, part of a pilot project for SDG 15 (Life on land).

Jatna Supriatna, senior lecturer at UI, attributed the success of Indonesian universities in the Impact Rankings to the intensification of their research on global challenges. “What elevates them to such a significant rise is research,” he told University World News. “UI, for example, has increased its research publications by 20% this year alone. It means UI spent more funds on research.”

Only 25% of the university’s funding is from the government. Three quarters is from UI’s own revenue sources, including its endowment fund.

More international research collaboration

The focus on SDGs led to Indonesian universities participating in further international collaborations.

Jatna, who has represented Indonesia in various UN meetings on sustainable development, said “if the objectives of research are big issues or global problems, an individual university would not be able to do it alone. It needs partners.”

“The University of Indonesia, Gadjah Mada and IPB are now in joint research and innovation partnerships with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in various fields, stemming from energy, sustainable transport and nanotechnology, food safety, environmental sensing to climate change,” said Jatna, who is also chairman of the UI Research Center for Climate Change.

“Under the UN-sanctioned SDGs, universities are called to incorporate all aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals in their curricula, which enables students to gain knowledge and skill necessary to address the challenges of SDGs,” he added.

The university launched its SDGs hub in April 2019 to bring together the university’s activities and to strengthen partnerships globally.

UI Rector Ari Kuncoro said in a statement on 20 September that since 2021 his university has collaborated with 383 universities and institutions from 49 countries. “Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, our research, innovation and social work was increasing. Our lecturers, researchers and students are more active,” Kuncoro said in a press statement.

‘Developing countries can also perform well’

There are other universities in Indonesia that have performed well in Impact Rankings. In THE’s national-level ranking for Indonesia, IPB University ranked first on SDG 4 (Quality education), second on SDG 14 (Life below water), and third on SDG 1 (No poverty), SDG 2 (Zero hunger), SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth) and SDG 13 (Life on land).

In the international Impact Ranking IPB University ranked 51st on ‘No poverty’, 45th on ‘Zero hunger’, 46th in ‘Life below water’ and 73rd in ‘Life on land’.

IPB’s rector Arif Satria, said the Impact Rankings “helped universities sharpen their strategies in research and innovation.”

IPB has developed genetically modified ‘super seeds’ for rice and papaya, called IPS3S for rice and IPB9 for Papaya Calina. The IPB3 paddy seed is more resistant to disease and produces 11 tonnes of rice per hectare, almost double the yield of regular seed, which produces around six tonnes per hectare on average. The new seeds are now available at agribusiness outlets in major cities in Indonesia.

The IPB9, meanwhile, produces papaya fruit with thicker, sweeter flesh, that does not easily rot, and is of a more handy size than the normal large and heavy fruit.

While engaged in global research cooperation on tropical biodiversity, the university also has a forest area for educational purposes, named Gunung Walat, in Sukabumi, West Java, which has become a model for small-scale sustainable forestry.

Floating hospitals

Muhammad Miftahussurur, vice rector of Airlangga University in Surabaya, East Java, said his university had done well, particularly on the SDGs relating to no poverty, good health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, and partnership.

Airlangga University, which says it is the country’s second biggest producer of health-related research, built the Ksatria Airlangga floating hospitals to provide healthcare services to thousands of people on over 60 remote islands, including specialist surgeries and eye surgery that would normally be out of reach on the islands.

The project also conducts research on the islands during the visits to gather data that can be useful for other clinicians and researchers, and holds webinars aimed at doctors, nurses and other health workers.

Airlangga University has also set up an SDGs Centre to support the university’s work on SDGs.

International collaboration

Dr Eugene Sebastian executive director of the Australia-Indonesia Centre, a research consortium of 11 universities – seven from Indonesia and four from Australia – says he is not surprised Indonesian universities are doing well in the Impact Rankings.

“I see them being highly competitive in areas aligned with the SDGs, especially in areas such as poverty and water,” he explained. “It is a significant part of their work and supported by national and multilateral funding.”

Sebastian says such topics are central to a growing number of Indonesian universities’ international partnerships, with the University of Indonesia, Gadjah Mada and IPB particularly “active” in this regard.

The “best Indonesian universities are partnering with the best universities abroad to research and publish in this area”, he said. “They see the importance of international networks to help tackle SDGs, which also invariably contributes to rankings and reputational lift.”

The Australia-Indonesia Centre consortium brings together UI, UGM, IPB, Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), Hasanuddin University, and Airlangga University with Australia’s Melbourne University, Monash University, Queensland University and Western Australia University to tackle community issues such as water, energy, food and health.