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‘Radical’ new ranking measures universities against UN goals

Australia has copped some crowns in Times Higher Education’s (THE) newest ranking.

To nab the top overall spot on the ladder, a university would have to demonstrate its work towards some of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The institution to do that in the ranking’s inaugural year was New Zealand’s University of Auckland.

To compile the ranking, THE created 11 league tables based on individual SDGs.

Some of the metrics included universities’ policies on academic freedom, their use of secure employment contracts and their share of senior female academic staff.

The University of Auckland’s pole position was due, in part, to its top scores for two of the goals: good health and wellbeing, and partnerships for the goals. It also reached equal sixth on the gender equality table.

Australia’s top performer on the overall table was Western Sydney University, making its debut at 11. It was followed by the University of Wollongong at equal 13 and the University of South Australia at 22.

Western Sydney University topped the gender equality table, helping propel it to a position just outside the top 10. It was also second when looking at the reduced inequalities goal, just beaten out by James Cook University, Australia’s other top performer.

Australia swept the podium for that goal, with University of South Australia rounding out the top three.

Those efforts helped the nation become one of the top countries when looking at average overall scores, behind Canada and Ireland. Meanwhile, Japan was the most-represented country in the overall ranking, followed by the US and Russia.

THE said the new table was the world’s first global attempt to document evidence of higher education impact and represented "a radical new way of looking at university excellence" that went "beyond the teaching and research focus of traditional rankings”.

Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE, said universities’ response to the table showed that there was real appetite within the sector for a new way of defining excellence.

“This new exercise puts all universities on a level playing field, as reflected in the results which includes all types of institutions from big name research powerhouses to local institutions in developing countries that have never before engaged in global rankings," Baty said.

He added the work was more than just a ranking. “It is the start of an initiative that we will continue to develop in consultation with universities, academics and sector groups. The need and desire for clear, new metrics on impact is strong and, while this is a highly challenging area of data collection, it’s also an important and necessary step forward.”

While the ranking’s first iteration only included 11 of the UN’s 17 SDGs, THE said it plans to recognise performance against all in future instalments.

Below is a breakdown of the best performers across the SDGs looked at this year.

Good health and wellbeing for people
Measures universities’ research on key diseases and conditions, their support for healthcare professions, and the health of students and staff
Top overall university: University of Auckland, New Zealand
Top Australian university: University of Sydney at 4

Quality education
Measures universities’ contribution to early years and lifelong learning, their pedagogy research and their commitment to inclusive education
Top overall university: University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Top Australian university: University of South Australia at 8

Gender equality
Measures universities’ research on the study of gender, their policies on gender equality and their commitment to recruiting and promoting women
Top overall university: Western Sydney University

Decent work and economic growth
Measures universities’ economics research, their employment practices and the share of students taking work placements
Top overall university: McMaster University, Canada
Top Australian university: University of Sydney at =7

Industry, innovation and infrastructure
Measures universities’ research on industry and innovation, their number of patents and spin-off companies and their research income from industry
Top overall university: Yonsei University (Seoul campus), South Korea
Top Australian university: Monash University at =59

Reduced inequalities
Measures universities’ research on social inequalities, their policies on discrimination and their commitment to recruiting staff and students from under-represented groups
Top overall university: James Cook University

Sustainable cities and communities
Measures universities’ research on sustainability, their role as custodians of arts and heritage and their internal approaches to sustainability
Top overall university: Kyung Hee University, South Korea
Top Australian university: University of Queensland at 5

Responsible consumption and production
Measures universities’ research on responsible consumption and their approach to the sustainable use of resources
Top overall university: University College Cork
Top Australian university: Monash University at 27

Climate action
Measures universities’ research on climate change, their use of energy and their preparations for dealing with the consequences of climate change
Top overall university: University of British Columbia, Canada
Top Australian university: Macquarie University at 17

Peace, justice and strong institutions
Measures universities’ research on law and international relations, their participation as advisers for government and their policies on academic freedom
Top overall university: National Taiwan University, Taiwan
Top Australian university: University of Wollongong at 11

Partnerships for the goals
Looks at the broader ways in which universities support the SDGs through collaboration with other countries, the promotion of best practices and the publication of data
Top overall university: University of Auckland and University of Manchester in a tie
Top Australian university: University of Wollongong at 13

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