Two universities in Africa ranked first in individual SDGs

Two universities in Africa are included in the overall top 100 of the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings 2023, which are geared to assessing institutions’ contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and two placed first globally for their contributions to individual SDGs.

In the overall ranking, in which a total of 1,705 institutions were assessed, two South African universities ranked highest in Africa: the University of Johannesburg (UJ) was placed in 46th position and the University of Pretoria (UP) in 69th place.

UJ was also placed first for the work it does in areas related to SDG 1 (no poverty). The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) reigns first for its contribution to SDG 4 (quality education).

“It is gratifying to see that our university has once again been recognised for its significant contribution to societal impact, sustainability and innovation, through the SDGs. We are very proud of this achievement and excited to see even more outputs from our scholars in the near future.

“This is a testament to the outstanding work and dedication of our staff, postdoctoral fellows, students, research associates, research divisions, centres and institutes,” Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi, UJ’s vice-chancellor and principal, told University World News following the announcement.

According to him the university will continue to emphasise societal impact in what it does, including research on Global Excellence and Stature (GES) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, “thus, GES 4.0 – for Societal Impact”.

In a media release the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology said: “Management expresses profound gratitude to the diligent staff and students, invaluable partners, and esteemed stakeholders for their immense contributions leading to this remarkable milestone. This significant achievement stands as a testament to the collective efforts and commitment displayed by everyone at KNUST.”

In addition to UJ and KNUST’s achievement, several other institutions also fared well in the work done in areas related to individual SDGs.

UP was placed 4th globally for SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), and the University of Cape Town (UCT) 9th for clean water and sanitation.

According to the THE, South Africa has done well on SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) with two universities in the top 10 – UP and UJ at 6th.

What is measured?

The THE ranking assesses commitment to sustainability across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching based on self-submitted data from universities. However, a university’s ranking is based on its performance in SDG 17 – partnerships to achieve the goals – and three other SDGs, rather than across all the SDGs.

The ranking, now in its 5th year, is the world’s only one that specifically measures universities’ contributions to the SDGs although there are other rankings that assess universities’ contribution to sustainability, such as the QS World University Rankings, University Ranking, and UI Green Metric.

Among the global regions, Western Sydney University, Australia (1st) was top overall in the world and Australasia; Queen’s University, Canada (3rd) was the top-ranked institution in North America; the University of Manchester, UK (2nd) came out on top in Europe; Universiti Sains Malaysia (up one place to 4th) was top in Asia; the National Autonomous University of Mexico (32nd) was first in Latin America and UJ in Africa.

The nine countries that participated in the rankings for the first time this year are Brunei, Curaçao, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Panama, Serbia, Syria and Zimbabwe.

Overall results for individual SDGs

Results for each of the 17 SDGs, including a description of the content for the metrics used to score the SDGs:

SDG 1 – No poverty – University of Johannesburg (South Africa): Research on poverty and support for students from poor families.
SDG 2 – Zero hunger – Queen’s University (Canada): Research on hunger, teaching on food sustainability, and commitment to tackling food waste and hunger on campus and locally.
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being – RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences (Ireland): Research on key diseases and conditions, support for healthcare professions, and health of students and staff.
SDG 4 – Quality education – Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana): Contributions to early years and lifelong learning and commitment to inclusive education.
• b]SDG 5 – Gender equality – Western Sydney University (Australia): Research and policies on gender equality and commitment to recruiting and promoting women.
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation – University of Exeter (UK): Research related to water, water usage, and commitment to ensuring good water management in the wider community.
SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy – Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (Malaysia): Energy research, energy use and policies, and commitment to promoting energy efficiency.
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth – IPB University (Indonesia), RMIT University (Australia): Economics research, employment practices, and share of students taking work placements.
SDG 9 – Industry, innovation, and infrastructure – University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany), University of Stuttgart (Germany), Technical University of Munich (Germany) University of Twente (Netherlands): Research on industry and innovation, number of patents and spin-off companies and research income from industry.
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities – RMIT University (Australia): Research on social inequalities, policies on discrimination, and commitment to recruiting staff and students from underrepresented groups.
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities – Simon Fraser University (Canada): Research on sustainability, role as custodians of arts and heritage, and internal approaches to sustainability.
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production – Western Sydney University (Australia): Research on responsible consumption and approach to the sustainable use of resources.
SDG 13 – Climate action – University of Tasmania (Australia): Research on climate change, use of energy, and preparations for dealing with consequences of climate change.
SDG 14 – Life below water – Macquarie University (Australia): Research on life below water and education on and support for aquatic ecosystems.
SDG 15 – Life on land – University of Manchester (UK): Research on life on land and education on and support for land ecosystems.
SDG 16 – Peace, justice, and strong institutions – Universiti Sains Malaysia (Malaysia): Research on peace and justice, participation as advisers for government, and policies on academic freedom.
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals – Western Sydney University (Australia): The broader ways in which universities support the SDGs through collaboration with other countries, promotion of best practices, and publication of data.

Broader focus than traditional rankings

Universities in 115 countries were assessed.

Progress was measured for each of the individual 17 SDGs, and across the goals as a whole, which saw 18 universities from 10 countries and regions achieve number one positions.

Phil Baty, THE’s chief knowledge officer, said: “It moves away from the traditional and more narrow approach to rankings and looks at far broader issues – examining how universities are improving our world.”

To appear in the overall ranking table, universities must have submitted to SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals) and a minimum of three other SDGs. The total score was calculated as follows:

• SDG 17 – 22%
• Top scoring SDG – 26%
• Second best scoring SDG – 26%
• Third best scoring SDG – 26%

In addition, the score for the overall ranking is an average of the last two years’ total scores.

According to THE communications manager Ben Miller, this scoring measure was implemented for the first time this year to “increase the stability of the overall ranking, and to recognise the overall ranking's position as a broader assessment of a university's institution-wide commitment to sustainability in general”.

Baty said the impact rankings are an “extremely valuable tool” for universities, governments, funders, and policymakers to understand how universities are supporting the drive to meet the UN’s SDGs and what must be done to improve their performance even further in this massively important area.

He said that the rankings “are also vital for millions of prospective students who are increasingly demanding to see evidence that the universities they consider for their education are committed to sustainability and to helping them to become sustainably minded citizens”.