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THE Impact Rankings 2021

Times Higher Education (THE) has issued the third edition of its Impact Rankings evaluating universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year’s table which includes 1117 universities from 94 countries/regions is topped by the University of Manchester.

The assessment methodology is based on four broad areas of university’s work:

  • Research (new knowledge created in relevant topics)
  • Stewardship (stewarding role that employees, faculty and students take on to delivering the SDGs)
  • Outreach (community outreach at local, regional, national and international level)
  • Teaching (training skilled practitioners to deliver on the SDGs and making sure that all alumni take forward the key lessons of sustainability into their future careers).

In 2021, THE evaluated university performance against all 17 UN SDGs, varying from “no poverty” to “partnerships for the goals”. Universities could submit data on as many of these SDGs as they were able. Any university that provided data on SDG 17 and at least three other SDGs was included in the overall ranking.

The top 20 list is dominated by universities from Australia (7), followed by the UK (5) and Canada (3). It also features one higher education institution from Denmark, Ireland and Italy, respectively, when it comes to other countries in Europe.

The University of Manchester has taken the first place for the first time in 2021, and it is also the first UK university ranked number one in the Impact Rankings. The University of Manchester takes the number one position for SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). It also appears in the top 20 in seven other SDG tables. The University of Sydney retains its second place in this year’s Impact Rankings. The university also takes the first place for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation). RMIT University scores particularly highly for SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure).

As the EU is getting more ambitious on the climate neutrality front (see ACA Newsletter April 2021), only 8 universities from the European Union are part of the top 20 table for SDG “Climate change”, five of which come from Spain.

While there could be some open issues in terms of the overall methodological approach, this type of ranking undoubtedly contributes to raising awareness of SDGs in the university sector across the globe. Further efforts are however needed to promote and showcase the value of such efforts and concrete university initiatives to a broader public.