Australia’s universities dominate global impact rankings

Australia/April 23, 2021/By: Brendan O’Malley /Source:

The University of Manchester in the United Kingdom has topped a table of more than 1,100 universities around the world on action towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the third edition of the annual Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, released on 21 April.

But in terms of higher education systems, Australia is the world leader, with its universities claiming four positions in the overall ranking top 10, three more than any other country or region.

In total, 17 universities from 10 different countries and regions claim a top position across the 18 rankings, including Mexico, Thailand, South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

The rankings assess university commitment to sustainability at an institutional, local, national, regional and global level, from carbon neutral campuses to global partnerships responding to the COVID-19 pandemic at a multi-national level.

Launched in 2019, the Impact Rankings are the first global attempt to measure university progress towards the 17 SDGs, providing a total of 18 rankings, one for each SDG as well as an overall table.

The University of Manchester came first in the overall table after achieving first place for work towards both SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production) and second place for SDG 14 (Life below water).

Vice-Chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell said the University of Manchester is “delighted to top the world” in the rankings, “but more importantly we’re pleased to be part of a growing community of universities committed to measuring and sharing their societal impact”.

She said the university values the feedback the rankings provide about their performance on each of the global goals.

“They cover every aspect of a university’s impact: our research, our teaching and learning, our engagement with the public and how we operate as sizeable organisations in our cities and regions.”

Top 10 institutions overall

The top 10 institutions overall are: University of Manchester, UK (1), University of Sydney, Australia (2), RMIT University, Australia (3), La Trobe University, Australia (4), Queen’s University, Canada (5), University of Wollongong, Australia (=6 or tie 6th), Aalborg University, Denmark (=6), University College Cork, Ireland (8), Arizona State University (Tempe), US (=9) and University of Auckland, New Zealand (=9).

While Western countries dominate the top 10, 24 countries and regions from six continents appear in the overall top 100, demonstrating a high level of commitment and excellence across global higher education for achieving the SDGs.

Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE, says the rankings – with a record 1,240 universities participating this year but 1,115 institutions ranked – demonstrate that universities are showing “just how important they are to helping global society solve some of its toughest challenges”.

He said: “The results of this year’s rankings demonstrate the cohesiveness of institutions worldwide for a single shared goal, with representatives from 24 countries and regions, and six continents in the top 100 alone.”

All of Australia’s entrants appear in the overall top 200, while the University of Sydney comes first in SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation), the University of Canberra tops the table for SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities), La Trobe University takes first place for SDG 15 (Life on land) and the University of Newcastle climbs from =82 last year to claim number one spot for SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals).

Some 405 institutions entered the rankings for the first time, with Canada’s Queen’s University achieving fifth place overall and topping the ranking for SDG 1 (No poverty).

Top ranked universities by SDG

The number one ranked institution overall and for each SDG are:

• Overall: University of Manchester, UK.

• SDG 1 (No poverty): Queen’s University, Canada.

• SDG 2 (Zero hunger): Metropolitan Autonomous University, Mexico.

• SDG 3 (Good health and well-being): Oregon Health and Science University, US.

• SDG 4 (Quality education): Aalborg University, Denmark.

• SDG 5 (Gender equality): Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Saudi Arabia.

• SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation): University of Sydney, Australia.

• SDG 7 (Affordable and clean energy): King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Thailand.

• SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth): University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

• SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure): Four universities tied in first place: University of British Columbia, Canada; Delft University of Technology, Netherlands; Technical University of Munich, Germany; and University of Toronto, Canada.

• SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities): University of Canberra, Australia.

• SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities): University of Manchester, UK.

• SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production): University of Manchester, UK.

• SDG 13 (Climate action): University at Buffalo, US.

• SDG 14 (Life below water): University of Plymouth, UK.

• SDG 15 (Life on land): La Trobe University, Australia.

• SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions): Queen’s University, Canada.

• SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals): University of Newcastle, Australia.

Russia (86) is the most represented country or region in the rankings, with an additional 33 universities ranked in at least one SDG table since 2020. Japan has 85 ranked institutions, followed by India (57), Turkey (55), UK and US (both 52), Brazil (47), Pakistan and Spain (both 40) and Iraq (38).

Baty said: “The THE Impact Rankings offer a platform for universities in every corner of the planet to showcase their active commitment to sustainability. The record turnout this year shows how universities are standing up to be counted and fulfil the vital role they play in society.

“Success in any of the SDGs means being responsible at every level, from the individual institutions, all the way up to the multinational. Therefore, we are thrilled to see the growing number of debutants who have qualified this year, as it shows just how seriously they are taking their roles in helping to ensure a sustainable future.”

In this year’s ranking postgraduate-only institutions were included for the first time.

A ‘catalyst for action’

According to THE Chief Data Officer Duncan Ross in his explanation of the methodology, it is hoped that the rankings “can be a catalyst for action, a mechanism for holding our universities to account, and an opportunity for them to highlight great work that they are already doing.”

The THE Impact Rankings assess universities on metrics across all 17 UN SDGs. Data was collected from universities and Elsevier and the metrics were developed in partnership with Vertigo Ventures.

The findings are displayed in 18 league tables, one for each of the 17 individual SDGs and one overall ranking table. 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.

According to THE, a university’s final score in the overall table is calculated by combining its score in SDG 17 with its top three scores out of the remaining 16 SDGs. SDG 17 accounts for 22% of the overall score, while the other SDGs each carry a weight of 26%. This means that different universities are scored based on a different set of SDGs, depending on their focus.

A university’s contribution to individual SDGs is assessed on the basis of research metrics (27%) and other evidence-based criteria. So, for instance SDG 1 (No poverty) is based on research on poverty including scale and citations, as well as the number of papers co-authored with a university based in a low- or middle-income country; other factors are the proportion of students receiving financial aid; and evidence of university anti-poverty programmes providing student support and community support.

Comparison with previous years’ rankings is difficult because the number of participant institutions increased by 211 (or 38%) from 556 in 2019 to 767 in 2020 and further increased to 1,240 this year; secondly, the number of SDGs included rose from 11 to 17 between 2019 and 220, increasing the number of metrics ranked.

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Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.

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