India needs to rethink and redesign its strategies in some of the major goals...precisely the ones it has fared poorly in the Times Higher Education ranking list.
Recently, the Times Higher Education (THE), a UK-based world university ranking agency, released the first-ever University Impact Rankings 2019 by Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This report ranks universities across the world based on 11 SDGs relevant to the functioning of educational institutes. Some of the SDGs on universities are ranked include good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities and partnerships for the goals. While Japan is the most-represented nation in the list, the United States and Russia follow close after. India, however, failed to make a mark in the top-100 for any of the 11 SDGs.
In December last year, the NITI Aayog, in collaboration with the United Nations (UN), too released the Baseline Report of the SDG India Index, which ranks and documents progress of Indian States and Union Territories in implementing 2030 SDG goals. In the report, Yuri Afanasiev, resident coordinator of the UN, stressed on the fact that India’s progress on SDGs in the next decade is “critical” to the world because of its population size as well as her “extraordinary economic growth”. In view of this, India needs to deliberate on strategic ways of achieving success in the implementation of SDG.
What is most concerning is the fact that unlike regular global rankings, none of India’s elite higher educational institutions (HEIs) such as IITs, IIMs, NITs or even central universities find any mention in the THE University Impact rankings. The 11 names include a handful of mostly private institutes such as JSS Academy of Education and Research, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Annamalai University, Christ University Bengaluru; Jamia Millia Islamia, KIIT University, KLE University, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Pondicherry University and PSG College of Technology. This leaves one wondering whether our premier institutes are also responsible campuses that propagate equality and sustainability in delivering education.
However, much to our dismay, HEIs have found no mention even in the NITI Aayog report that measures India’s progress on Goal 4 of SDG, i.e. education. While there are certain similarities one can gauge in the two rankings, including performance of certain States, it leaves a lot of space for Indian policymakers to introspect on ways to achieve these SDGs by including HEIs in a considerable way.
Globally, HEIs are the key drivers of the SDGs, as they are the hubs of innovation and critical thinking. At a special event of the 2017 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the UN headquarters in New York, the members of the UN Global Compact’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative displayed how eminent institutions across the world are propagating the SDGs through responsible actions and innovative practices. Institutes such as the Monash University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Stanford University have integrated the SDGs into their curricula across disciplines and are running multi-sectoral programmes and projects designed to achieve the said goals.
Higher education institutes constitute the future generation and experts who can find relevant ways of inching towards the SDGs through discussions, deliberations and research. HEIs can also influence this community to have the right skills and attitude to adhere to the SDG goals of a sustainable campuses and therefore, sustainable communities. Which is why it is important for India to derive certain lessons for its HEIs, from both the SDG-based rankings.
In India, certain specialised research institutes are helping the government and policymakers with problem-driven research. However, at this point when it has become essential to abide by the SDGs for an inclusive future, institutes need to ascertain that their activities lead to “responsible consumption and production”, and are thus aligned to achieving global “well-being.”
According to THE, for Goal 5 of SDG, the institutes were ranked on “research on the study of gender, their policies on gender equality and their commitment to recruiting and promoting women.” Only seven out of the 11 Indian institutes were scored on this parameter. This paints a dismal picture of the state of gender equality in the Indian institutions, which mirrors the prevailing gaps in the society and workplaces as well. Unless the HEIs imbibe this feeling themselves and, in their students, it will increasingly become difficult for India to have gender inclusive spaces.
Yet another goal measured points to SDG 11, where universities are ranked basis their “research on sustainability, their role as custodians of arts and heritage and their internal approaches to sustainability.” It is rather disappointing to observe that none of the Indian institutes have been scored in this category. This points to a very important aspect of internal sustainability measures that most HEIs in India are failing to abide by. HEIs need to take a lead on preserving art and heritage of our country, with their intricate expertise and intelligent use of developing technology, while being sustainable in their approach.
Goal 17 of SDG in the THE rankings measures the performance of institutes on “collaboration with other countries, the promotion of best practices and the publication of data”, which is also the only one category that all 11 institutes have been scored on. While most of our elite Indian institutions have grand partnerships and accreditations from international agencies and institutions, it is pertinent to reimagine these partnerships not just for academic purposes, but for SDGs as well. Indian institutes have also miserably failed on the parameter of data publication, which has also affected their rankings and ratings by indigenous agencies and regulatory bodies.
Thus, India needs to seriously rethink and redesign its strategies in some of the major goals such as industry innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequality, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production and climate actions – precisely the ones it has fared poorly in the THE ranking list.
While rankings are always relative indicators, India needs to honestly assess its performance and internally create an ecosystem that can trigger the necessary systemic and procedural transformation towards the achievement of the UN goals. In this endeavour, it is also necessary for policymakers to acknowledge the nuanced role of HEIs in supporting the government’s aims and processes. Like elsewhere in the world, it is time HEIs are considered the incubators of sustainable ideas, where the future generation partakes the responsibility of fulfilling India’s SDG goals by 2030.
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Priyanshu Agarwal Student Member Centre for Law and Society Gujarat National Law UniversityRead More +