| 4 minute read

Driving Change: How can academics make an impact on Sustainable Development Goals?

Elena Galán-Muros
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Join us as we explore the transformative power of research and its connection to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this episode of the Pathway to Impact Podcasts series, we were joined by Victoria Galan-Muros, Chief Research and Analysis UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education, who will highlight how research intersects with the SDGs, uncovering the connection between academia, policy, and practice that makes a lasting impact on our planet and future generations.

In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:

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Balzhan Orazbayeva:
How can academic research be helpful in advancing and addressing SDGs?

Victoria Galan-Muros:
I’m simplifying a complex reality to give a short answer but, for an academic, it can be summed up in some questions: Am I doing research one of these 17 topics? Am I aligned specifically with any of the 169 targets?

Some answers will be “yes”, some answer will be “not directly”. If so, how can you consider SDGs in your research? The most transversal ones such as gender, climate action, wellbeing, etc. are SDGs that, no matter what your focus is, you will always be able to consider them within your research.

The next question would be: Who can I collaborate with that can help my research to be more impactful? SDG 17 says that, for us to achieve SDGs, none of us could do it alone. For example, alliances with other academics in different areas will make your research more relevant for a specific SDG.

The third question is: Who are those who can action my research or my research results? If it is industry, maybe you could undertake your research with industry. Maybe you need their expertise, their practical knowledge, their data, their equipment, their infrastructure…

Balzhan Orazbayeva:
How does UNESCO support academics besides doing research and advising on those topics?

Victoria Galan-Muros:
We are a small, but very ambitious institute and our main stakeholders are governments in all the member states of UNESCO, but we work with universities as well. We are doing studies to clarify what universities could do to contribute, because sometimes it’s not that universities do not want to do it, it’s that they don’t know how to do it.

We have also created a self-assessment tool for universities about SDGs that includes teaching, research, engagement, and management. It could help universities to guide their decision making and test the estate in which they are.

We don’t expect all universities to do everything in all the SDGs, but we believe that, no matter if you are considered the top university in the world or you are a newer or smaller university, there is always a possibility to contribute to SDGs.

We work with universities all over the world, particularly focused in low- and middle-income countries, and we have seen incredible examples of universities that you might never heard of, but are being truly engines of the social and economic development in the regions. I don’t want to compare, but maybe even more according to their capacities than other (considered) more prestigious universities.

Balzhan Orazbayeva:
How do you think universities themselves are issuing enough the topic of sustainability in their own operations?

Victoria Galan-Muros:
Universities can talk about the SDGs, but first and foremost, they should be role models. They should be implementing each one of the SDGs up to a certain extent in their operations and their management.

For example, universities can be advocates about gender equality in the world and can even have a research center on it, but how is the university taking care of and supporting female that either study there or that work for them? That could be said and applied with any of the other SDGs. Lots of universities doing research about sustainability. How sustainable are our universities as such? Sometimes not much.

It’s an important part of leadership, which is “do what I say and what I do because I am being a role model for this, so then I can advocate for that for everyone else”.

Interested in more insights like this?

You can listen now to Rosie Lavis (UKRI), Johan Kostela (Dalarna University), Joanne Curry (Simon Fraser University) and Isabel Roessler (CHE Centre for Higher Education) discuss different frameworks and approaches to effective engagement impact evaluation in this episode, or read our article about the role of universities in the sustainability transition.

Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!

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