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HLPF 2023: How can data and indicators support the transformation of pedagogy for global goals?


As Antonio Guteres reminded us at the Agenda 2030 mid-term High-Level Political Forum, humanity is not on track to achieve most of the SDGs by 2030. It is now clear that the world must redouble its efforts to achieve these ambitious but essential goals.  

The Sulitest High-Level Political Forum special event, "How Can Data and Indicators Support the Transformation of Pedagogy for the Global Goals?" featured the participation of higher education institutions committed to the transition to sustainability (and in particular users of Sulitest tools), as well as renowned experts.

Sébastien BOURDIN from EM Normandie Business School, Jean-Michel Champagne from HEC Montréal, Florent Deisting from TBS Education, Duncan Ross from Times Higher Education, Andrew Jack from Financial Times, Lauriane Dietrichs from Positive Impact Rating for Business Schools and Sulitest shared their views on the role of data and measurement in higher education transition.
The event was brilliantly opened by Thomas Friang of Open Diplomacy and closed with insights from Ola Goransson of UN DESA, all expertly moderated by Kathleen Ng of McGill University.

Sulitest's 2023 annual report, entitled "Advancing Sustainability Literacy for the Global Goals", was presented at the special event and highlighted the centrality of sustainability literacy in our journey towards achieving the SDGs. It reflects for the first time trends in the use of Sulitest's new TASK™ sustainability literacy assessment.

We were therefore fortunate to be able to talk to these major players in the measurement field.

Some of the main highlights are transcribed here!

Summary: Mr. Göransson's speech

Mr. Göransson is co-chair of HESI, the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, alongside Mr. Carteron, President of Sulitest. On the importance of data, he expressed the collective need to understand where we are and where we're going. Describing data as the navigation system of a great ship, he said: "is the input we need to navigate towards sustainable development, in order to avoid further major crashes".

"Although it has been mentioned that Sulitest and other initiatives are not part of policy-making, I personally think they are because they influence policy-making. Policy-making requires data; it's an integral part of that [process]."  

In the context of Agenda 2030, Mr. Göransson stressed that "work on sustainable development shouldn't be an afterthought, but should be mainstreamed and really integrated into higher education and beyond. "And I think data can really help to highlight the benefits of thinking about sustainable development."

He went on to stress the importance of partnerships, saying:  

"One aspect of the 2030 agenda is that we really need all sectors of society to work together to enable us to move forward. And I think the partnerships you've created within the Sulitest movement, with so many diverse stakeholders, are proof of that."  

Positive Impact Rating (PIR)'s take on student expectations

In response to doubts about whether students know what they want, Lauriane Dietrichs, Positive Impact Rating (PIR) representative and vice-president of oikos international, said, "Students know what they want and we know because we read what students say about their universities [as part of the PIR assessment]. There are a lot of great initiatives and ideas they want to implement, young people are clearly expressing what they want their schools to start doing, but also what they want their schools to stop doing."  

"One which comes up a lot is integrating sustainability into the curriculum. However, this is an area in which schools are currently slow, and I would hope that by 2030, this is something where we see an acceleration in. We should have sustainability in all programs, not just some master or some bachelor programs, but across the entire curriculum. This is something that the students really have at heart.”  

Describing the positive impact assessment system, Laurianne pointed out that only 7 schools had been classified in the top category, that of "pioneer schools", adding that the aim between now and 2030 is for many more schools to lead by example.  

"These seven schools are all located in the Global South, which shows that schools in developed economies have a lot to learn from schools in developing economies, where social and community orientation has long been part of their DNA," said Laurianne.

"Au-delà du contenu pédagogique, il y a aussi beaucoup d'autres choses comme la durabilité sur le campus ; avec qui l'école s'associe-t-elle ? Un partenariat avec une banque mondiale connue pour ses investissements dans les énergies fossiles n'est peut-être pas la meilleure formule en matière de développement durable. En somme, ce sont des choses que les étudiants voient, et veulent que leurs écoles passent vraiment de la parole aux actes", a ajouté Mme Dietrichs.

Time Higher Education's view: What would the world's top universities look like in 2030, if we manage to achieve the SDGs?

Duncan Ross, Chief Data Officer at Times Higher Education, began his speech with the question below.  

He pointed out that, generally speaking, if you were to ask the question today :

"What are the 10 best universities in the world?" in New York, the answer would be much the same as on the streets of Tokyo or London, the answer being the "usual suspects": a handful of very old, very rich, research-intensive universities. "

He said he hoped that by 2030, these answers would be closely aligned with those of the universities listed in the Times Higher Education Impact ranking, saying:    

"In 2030, when we have achieved the Sustainable Development Goals, I hope that if we ask this question, the universities that come back will be those that do the most in terms of sustainability and that the list will be very different" :  

He went on to highlight global higher education statistics and how this translated into sustainability education challenges:  

“One of the challenges we have in the world is that in the global north, our populations are aging. Thankfully, we have lots of people going to university. However, if you look at Africa, where 50% of the population is under 25, only about 6% of their population go to university. [...]So, we need to change that. We need to see a situation where it's universities from Africa who are leading the world, rather than universities in Boston, for example.”  

Mr. Ross reiterated his hope that by 2030, the idea of what it means to be a great university would have fundamentally changed:    

“[They would be] leaders in their communities, being relevant to their immediate communities, tackling the challenges that are important where they are” he added.

he added.

Andrew Jack of the Financial Times: His personal view on the role of business schools in implementing systemic change  

Regarding his vision for 2030, Andrew Jack, Global Education Editor for the Financial Times, expressed his hope that the SDGs will no longer be the focus of attention, because they will be the norm. Commenting on the role of business schools in systemic change, he added:

“If I'm optimistic, I certainly think that business schools, can and should have an even greater role as the key conduit for training executives, and, of course, the current and future generations of entrepreneurs, managers and executives in the private, but also the public and the nonprofit sectors. “

He also declared:

“it will require, of course, some very significant changes in the ecosystem, the architecture, the priorities, and particularly the signals from funders and recruiters from business schools, strategically adapting and adjusting in ways that schools can help to lead, but also be dragged if they're unwilling, into a different area.”

Conclusions of the UN High-Level Political Forum 2023    

It's been a few weeks since the end of the UN 2023 High-Level Political Forum, and we're moving forward with renewed energy and determination. The challenges ahead are real, but we are convinced that, through higher education, fruitful partnerships and relevant data, we can accelerate the transition to the SDGs.  

Rankings have been integrating sustainability at institutional level for some years now. With TASK™, Sulitest brings a new, robust and comparable measurement tool on student knowledge. The next few years are crucial, and it's up to higher education establishments to get to grips with these tools.  

Our  tool, TASK™, was designed with the academic community for the academic community, enabling higher education institutions to transform pedagogy for good.  

We invite all change agents to join us on this transformative journey to shape a sustainable future for all.  

This blog will be followed by a second part sharing the vision and actions of three of our Change Leader institutions, EM Normandie Business School, HEC Montréal and TBS Education, who took part in the discussion in New York.

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