By: Simon Collins

Auckland University has been ranked top in the world for sustainable development despite so far resisting a student campaign (above) to sell its fossil fuel investments. Photo / Gypsy Pixie

The University of Auckland has topped the world in a new ranking of universities’ “impact” on achieving the United Nations sustainable development goals.

The new “impact rankings” were unveiled overnight by London-based Times Higher Education at an innovation and impact summit in South Korea.

Auckland University came first in the world on “partnerships” for sustainable development and on “good health and wellbeing for people”, as well as in the overall rankings.

However, the value of the rankings is undermined by the fact that none of the top 12 universities in the main Times university rankings, led by Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford, submitted entries for the new “impact” rankings.

Only three of New Zealand’s eight universities entered. AUT University has been ranked 16th and Massey University 38th.

All the NZ universities dropped out of the top 200 in the main Times rankings for the first time last year. Auckland and Otago were included in a group ranked between 201st and 250th and the others were further behind.

But in the “impact” rankings Auckland is followed by McMaster University in Canada (ranked 77th in the main Times rankings), the University of British Columbia (37th), the University of Manchester (57th) and King’s College, London (38th).

Auckland’s ranking is also ironic because it has so far resisted a student campaign to sell investments by the University of Auckland Foundation in coal, oil and gas companies, estimated at around $5 million.

Niamh O’Flynn from 350 Aotearoa, which is backing the student campaign, said Otago and Victoria Universities have sold their fossil fuel investments but the Auckland foundation was still preparing a report on the pros and cons of divestment.

“I would say that unless they are taking a strong stand for climate change, then whatever else they are doing doesn’t actually make a difference,” she said.

The 17 United Nations sustainable development goals were adopted in 2015 to follow on from the previous “millennium development goals”, and aim to end all forms of poverty by 2030.

Times asked universities to submit data to measure their impact on 11 of the 17 goals through their research and other activities.

The overall rankings were based on each university’s score on the 17th goal of “partnerships for the goals” and its top three scores out of the remaining 10 goals.

“Partnerships” were assessed based on:

  • Publication by the universities of their performance against each sustainable development goal (50 per cent weighting). Auckland University and AUT belong to the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and AUT has published a Sustainability Roadmap.
  • Proportion of academic publications with a co-author from another country (14 per cent).
  • Number of publications relating to the sustainable development goals (13 per cent).
  • Policy work with governments or non-government organisations (NGOs), promoting cross-sectoral dialogue, collaborating internationally to capture data, working internationally to promote best practice, and supporting NGO education, all in relation to the sustainable development goals (4.6 per cent each).

Contributions to “health and wellbeing” were based on the proportion of graduates in health-related subjects (35 per cent), research on “key diseases and conditions” (27 per cent), and smaller weightings for collaborations with health institutions, outreach programmes to the local community, free sexual and mental health services for students and community access to sports facilities.

Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon said the “impact” rankings showed how relevant universities were.

“This is an outstanding result for the University of Auckland because it recognises our commitment to sustainability and making a positive social impact.”

AUT Professor Thomas Neitzert, who chairs the AUT Sustainability Taskforce, said AUT had a “deliberate focus on technological transformation, external impact and industry connections”.

“Our students, stakeholders and community expect sustainability to be a priority for AUT. We believe advancing knowledge and understanding of the issues and opportunities around creating a sustainable future is essential.”

Victoria University provost Professor Wendy Larner said Victoria did not submit an entry for the rankings because they were a pilot.

“This first ranking was a pilot and we will be evaluating the results as we consider our overall rankings strategy.”

Source: NZ Herald

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