Enhancing the role of higher education institutions in the local implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals

Enhancing the role of higher education institutions in the local implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals

The future we want is co-created by all in our society and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be a uniting force. If we are to reach our goals, we must work together to turn the global agreement we made into commitment and action on the ground. However, although the 2030 Agenda has been incorporated into national policies in many countries in the region, it is yet to be embraced and implemented at the local level.

This project was initiated with a vision that, as hubs of learning, knowledge and research, higher education institutions (HEIs) have a role to play in linking the local and the global in the journey towards the SDGs in close partnership with local communities.   

Utilizing participatory research and learning, the project aims to explore how universities can collaborate with communities in embedding sustainability at the local level in order to accelerate the global progress towards the SDGs.

Launched in 2018 and consisting of two phases, the project is a joint initiative between the Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research (ProSPER.Net), United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), and UNESCO Bangkok.

Phase I

The first phase of the project explored how higher education can engage and empower local communities to implement the global agenda at the local level. It saw four case studies conducted by ProSPER.Net member institutions in India, Japan, Philippines, and Thailand.

  • Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

The case study in Thailand was conducted in Pua District in the northern province of Nan. In order to see how sustainability and the SDGs could be addressed in the local community, the research team collected the experiences of the local people through focus group discussions and interviews. They found that various local values support the SDGs, but the sustainability concepts must be communicated in a way that is suited and meaningful for the community in order to effectively promote the SDGs at the local level.

  • Keio University, Japan

The research team engaged the community in Takahashi District, Toyooka City, Hyogo Prefecture. They held a workshop with the local residents to identify the most pressing sustainability-related problems that the community wanted to resolve. The main issue was the city’s declining population. To encourage youth to stay in the community, the team employed the use of a SDGs worksheet and a smartphone app for local junior high school students to gain renewed perspectives on their region.

  • TERI School of Advanced Studies, India

The case study in India was focused on a group of urban villages and slums in New Delhi. In their study of the communities and review of local governance, the researchers mapped the needs of the local people, mainly concerning health, water and sanitation, and solid waste management. They then were able to identify and recommend how the issues should be addressed, particularly through decentralized planning, multi-stakeholder engagement, and capacity development.

  • University of the Philippines, Philippines

The location of the case study in the Philippines was the barangay (the local administrative unit) on the University of the Philippines Diliman campus in Quezon City. To address the needs of the community, a consultative process was conducted with barangay officials and residents. Through participatory workshops, three Filipino values were identified in the local language to help the community members understand the SDGs. The research team also developed a sample learning module and a teacher’s guide, which have been approved for use by the Department of Education.

Subsequently, the insights from the case studies in the first phase were publicly presented at two events:

  • A session during the Bangkok Forum 2018 on 24-25 October, 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand – to read a report of the session, click here.
  • A side event at the 6th Session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) on 27 March 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand – to read a report of the side event, click here.

Phase II

Building on the achievements and lessons learnt from Phase I, the project’s second phase aims to further explore the collaboration between higher education institutions and local communities for the effective implementation of the SDGs. This is done through the surveying, documentation, and analysis of existing experiences among ProSPER.Net member institutions across the Asia-Pacific region.

The participating ProSPER.Net member institutions in Phase II are the following:

  • Chulalongkorn University, Thailand
  • Keio University, Japan
  • TERI School of Advanced Studies, India
  • Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia
  • Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia
  • University of the Philippines, Philippines

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Main image credit: Shutterstock/Victor FlowerFly