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Uniting for sustainability: Five reads on higher education’s role in tackling the climate crisis

Madeline Arkins
Wind turbines stand on grass against blue sky

There is a growing emphasis on sustainability in higher education that is shaping the future of learning. This collection of UIIN insight articles delves into key aspects of this discussion. From examining how universities are addressing the climate crisis to unravelling the intricacies of measuring their real world impact, these pieces provide practical insights into the sustainable evolution of academic institutions. One step further, we also look into the concept of the regenerative economy, examining its potential and the collaborative efforts needed from universities, businesses, and governments in order to make this transition a reality. Let’s dive in!

1. The role of universities in the sustainability transition

What responsibility do HEIs have in addressing the climate crisis and how can they equip future talent not only with the appropriate skills but also a culture of social responsibility? Amongst others, universities can play a part through research valorisation, disseminating knowledge and collaborating with stakeholders to develop innovative solutions. Emphasising the need for external engagement, this article calls for increased capacity and support systems in universities to maximise their sphere of influence.

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2. How can we measure the true impact of universities?

Have you ever wondered how universities can measure their impact in addressing global challenges? Beyond research publications, the real impact lies in societal change – a university’s ‘third mission.’ But measuring this impact is complex; it’s not just about data. Enter the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, an initiative in collaboration with the United Nations, assessing universities on their efforts towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Covering research, campus practices, student well-being, community engagement, and diversity, these rankings spotlight universities making a difference. As universities worldwide vie for top spots, this article explores the nuances, reminding us that rankings, while essential, are just one lens to view the impact of these institutions on our world.

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3. What is the regenerative economy and why should we care?

This special members-only report brief showcases the research insights from UIIN’s involvement in the Erasmus+ re:gen-u project. Collecting 85 interviews with regenerative economy experts within and beyond academia, we attempt to define the regenerative economy, look at the barriers in advancing this transition, the necessary supporting mechanisms and actions that universities can take, according to the experts.

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

Curious about how academic research can advance and address the UN SDGs? As part of our Pathway to Impact Podcasts series, we sat down with Victoria Galan-Muros, Chief Research and Analysis UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education to discuss that and more and offer concrete actions universities can take to empower academics to make a lasting impact in sustainability.

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5. Collaborating for change in the transition to a regenerative economy

Tackling climate change demands not only a shift in behaviour but also a radical shift in our societal mindset. How can we move from a growth-oriented economy to a regenerative one, where life takes precedence over mere statistics? Drawing from conversations with experts in the regenerative economy from across the Netherlands, this article attempts to answer these various and dissect the essential role universities, businesses, and governments play in this transition both as individual actors and as a coalition.

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Madeline Arkins (author) is a Project Officer at UIIN. In her work she focuses on topics relating to social impact and innovation in regional ecosystems.

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