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QS World University Rankings: Sustainable Development Goals

By Craig O

Updated November 15, 2021 Updated November 15, 2021

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), established in 2015, are the culmination of decades of work on pushing forward a global commitment to tackling the biggest issues facing our world. All 193 member states adopted these ambitious plans.

The UN states that they are “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice”.

Researchers have been increasingly highlighting the role that universities can take in forwarding this agenda. Jardali et al. (2018) write: “Universities are uniquely placed to lead the cross-sectoral implementation of the SDGs and advance the 2030 agenda”.

The QS stance

A 2019 report by QS found that 94 percent of prospective international students thought that universities should be doing more to be environmentally sustainable. In 2021, Forbes argued Gen Z are emerging as the ”sustainability generation”, and it is this generation who predominantly occupy the ‘prospective international student’ audience that QS speaks to in 2021.

There are many ways to assess a university’s commitment to advancing Sustainable Development Goals, from their on-campus policies to their strategic planning. For this first year, we have chosen to focus on research. Research is pivotal in advancing any of the SDGs – everything that has happened and will happen to alleviate climate change, reduce inequality, clean our waters or stop hunger will come as a result of research.

From economics to biochemistry, public policy to queer theory – researchers from across the academic spectrum must bring their fields together to meet the UN’s call.

Our immediate focus

In this year’s QS World University Rankings, we have chosen to introduce a new layer of insight to assess each institution’s research focus on two broad SDG categories. Institutions have been awarded a medal – Gold, Silver, Bronze or Candidate – which reflects the impact of their output in a particular area of sustainable development. In this first iteration, we have chosen to focus on two areas of interest – inequality and the environment. We have grouped SDGs 5 and 10 – Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities – into the category of ‘Equal Opportunities’.

Second, we have grouped SDGs 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 – Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land – into ‘Environmental Impact’.

You can find how we arrived at the medals on our methodology page.

For more information about the SDGs, please visit the United Nations website.

We hope you find this added layer of information informative, and we look forward to your feedback. Please visit our Service Desk.

This article was originally published in August 2021 . It was last updated in November 2021

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Written by

As Head of Content, Craig is responsible for all articles and guides published across TopUniversities and TopMBA. He has nearly 10 years of experience writing for a student audience and extensive knowledge of universities and study programs around the world.

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