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Aussie unis dominate THE Impact Rankings

Australian universities have dominated a ranking that looks at efforts to solve global challenges.

Four top spots in Times Higher Education’s (THE) Impact Rankings were taken up by Australian institutions – a huge jump from last year’s result, as no Australian university appeared in the 2019 top 10.

The ranking uses the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals to measure the extent to which universities are having a positive social and economic impact on the planet.

Last year, Australia’s top performer was Western Sydney University, debuting at 11. It was followed by the University of Wollongong at equal 13 and the University of South Australia at 22.

This year, the University of Sydney was Australia’s best (2) – up from 25 last year – but was pipped at the post by the University of Auckland, which nabbed the pole position for the second year running.

USyd performed particularly well in the ‘sustainable cities and communities’ and ‘decent work and economic growth’ goals.

Vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence said: “The contribution universities make has never been more important – with climate change, unprecedented bushfires and the coronavirus affecting us all.”

Explaining its success, the university pointed to its work on keeping local Indigenous languages from extinction and on a report that explores the sometimes illegal arrangements emerging in parts of Sydney in response to unmet housing, as well as a trip by students last year to Pune, India, to work on AI to address air pollution, water management and drought, along with events like the Sydney Summit II, which focused on sustainable development goals.

Sydney Environment Institute director Professor David Schlosberg said the university’s forthcoming sustainability strategy – expected this year – would make its work in this area more visible to the campus community and “put some of our best research into practice in the everyday life of the campus”.

Rounding out 2020’s top three was Western Sydney University, which was followed by La Trobe University at number four.

Australia’s other top 10 finisher was RMIT University (10).

The United States typically dominates higher education rankings and yet only three universities from the US ranked in the 2020 top 100. Arizona State University (Tempe) at number 5 gave the country its only top 10 result.

This is the first year that the Impact Rankings recognised all 17 sustainable development goals, up from 11 last year.

In the 17 individual SDG Rankings, 16 universities from nine nations took out number one positions, including China, United States, the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE, said: “Unlike many traditional rankings, participation is just as important as overall position, with institutions actively demonstrating how seriously they take their role in achieving a sustainable world. The results reveal how many are putting this at the heart of their missions.

“We’ve had a phenomenal response from institutions across the globe. Universities from Afghanistan to Vietnam have taken part, and a number of top 100 spots are held by universities from countries and regions that have never appeared in the upper echelons of the traditional THE world rankings before, like Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico. These rankings prove that traditional barriers to success like wealth or research prestige don’t matter when it comes to doing great things for sustainability. It’s clear that universities give us a lot to be hopeful for.”

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