Stimulus measures to strengthen role of HE in achieving SDGs
This was the main message that emerged from the scientific conference on higher education and sustainable development held from 6-7 November 2023 at the Zintan University’s Al-Rajban College of Accounting in Libya.
The conference marked a critical juncture, namely the midway point for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the conclusion of the first 10-year implementation plan (2014-23) of Agenda 2063.
“Despite the great importance of the role of HEIs in sustainable development as part of their social responsibilities, interest in this role at the local and Arab levels is still very limited, and the function of HEIs is still limited within the framework of their primary function, which is providing educational service rather than broader participation in development activities,” according to the conference note.
This is in line with a 2021 study titled ‘The role of Libyan universities in Meeting the Requirements of Sustainable Development’, which stated that “there is a weakness in the level of contribution of Libyan universities in achieving sustainable development requirements”.
The study recommended that “Libyan universities focus their efforts on strengthening their role in achieving sustainable development in their various dimensions, which will improve the living situation in Libyan society and achieve a better life for its members while preserving the rights of future generations”.
Dr Al-Mehdi Mohamed Ibrahem, assistant professor at Gharyan University in Libya and a member of the conference scientific committee, told University World News: “The conference was a unique opportunity to promote the crucial role of Libyan universities in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to address several key recommendations.”
Ibrahem said the conference emphasised the challenges and the strategies that universities should consider to actively engage in research and innovation that directly addresses Libya’s specific challenges, aiming to achieve the SDGs.
Community service emphasised
“The conference recommended an increased investment in research and support for Libyan universities to explore topics that contribute to the social and economic development in Libya and enhance the quality of education.”
For example, there is an urgent need to promote Libyan universities’ educational, research, and community service roles to tackle climate change’s impact on sustainable development, especially after Mediterranean Storm Daniel caused devastating floods in the coastal city of Derna on 12 September 2023, resulting in the death of 122 students and five graduates from Derna University.
The conference participants also agreed to enhance community service of HEIs, indicating that their role is no longer limited to providing knowledge, but must be expanded to include new roles such as education for sustainable development and capacity-building.
In addition, the participants called for reforming higher education to produce market-ready graduates who can contribute to sustainable growth along with promoting the digital transformation of education and introducing electronic management in HEIs to help achieve SDGs.
Vision needed for projects
Besides consolidating scientific research for producing innovative solutions for environmental and socio-economic development, the participants also called for building a vision for educational projects and initiatives in the field of higher education that contribute to SDGs.
The participants further emphasised the effective role of private universities in societal progress and sustainable growth within the SDG framework. Building networks of institutions and researchers from Libyan and Arab universities interested in sustainable development and providing opportunities for cooperation in its various fields were also called for.
Besides establishing partnerships with international universities and civil society organisations in supporting the achievement of the SDGs, the participants want to exchange global experiences and expertise on how to use higher education to achieve sustainability.
A 2022 study titled ‘The Impact of Sustainable Change on the Sustainability of Libyan Universities: A field study on a sample of faculty members in Libyan universities’ indicated that adopting the sustainable change model is necessary because of its role in achieving and building sustainable value and understanding the gaps and available solutions to achieve progress and improve performance.
Ibrahem said the collective effort emphasises the significant role Libyan universities can play in sustainable development and supporting the community with the knowledge and skills required to build more sustainable and novel contributions toward a more sustainable future.
Nurturing the youth
Izzudin Busnaina, associate professor and head of the department of international and cultural cooperation in the faculty of economics at the University of Benghazi and a member of the scientific committee of the conference, said Libyan universities have significant potential to contribute to sustainable development.
Busnaina told University World News that the country, with its more than 20 universities and 40,000 academic staff, can contribute particularly to non-oil sectors by nurturing the youth generation with the knowledge and skills they need to contribute to the SDGs.
“Through education, research, innovation and community engagement, they can play a vital role in shaping a more sustainable and diversified future for their nations,” Busnaina said.