Opinion: Western Sydney University share learnings on impact following 12 months as number one in the world
EucFACE, based at Western Sydney University
In the following opinion piece, Western Sydney University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research, Enterprise and International) Professor Deborah Sweeney and Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Kevin Dunn, reflect on the University being ranked number one in the world in the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings. It was first published with full links on the Times Higher Education(opens in a new window) website.
A focus on Sustainable Development must become common place within the sector if we are to achieve the United Nation’s Strategic Development Goals for 2030
Increasingly, students, partners and communities want to be associated with a university that is committed to our planet in the same way that they are. This doesn’t mean they want branding exercises in environmentalism, this means they want real action on our climate crisis, on extreme poverty, and on human rights abuses – in short, they want their institution to approach sustainable development with the urgency it deserves.
With only eight years until the 2030 deadline for the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a universal call to end poverty, protect the planet and strive for peace and prosperity – it has become vital for the sector to use the Goals as a framework for research and teaching. Universities foster the next generation of thought leaders and civic-minded citizens and can deliver capabilities through research and partnership; they are well equipped to solve the complex challenges of our times.
Being ranked number one in the world in the 2022 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings was an immensely proud moment in the University’s history. This achievement recognises our sector-leading efforts in driving important social transformation. We have used this accolade with distinction and conviction to urge the sector to take responsibility for these goals. While other rankings may inspire competition and comparison, we feel the Impact Rankings are an opportunity to share, learn, collaborate and to help create a more just and equitable world.
In the spirit of collaboration, here are some of our learnings, and if sharing these tips makes for greater competition to remain number one in the world, well, we couldn’t be happier.
Use the goals as a framework
Tackling our climate crisis, extreme poverty and human rights abuses may seem overwhelming. At Western Sydney University, we have used the SDG framework not just as something aspirational, but as a tool to frame strategies and action plans that address these complex challenges. The focus of our curriculum, operations, research and engagement all have alignment with the SDGs.
Western Sydney University has created impact and delivered on the SDGs by working closely with a wide range of regional and global partners. For example, the University recently joined a consortium of partners in a $15 million Decarbonisation Innovation Hub. As a core partner, the University is working to fast track the research, translation, and adoption of decarbonisation technology and practices across sectors and regions of the state of NSW, helping the NSW Government to achieve its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
Western Sydney University also proudly leads the innovative and collaborative Australia India Water Centre (AIWC) with the goal of addressing the critical challenge of water security, sanitation, water management and distribution in a warming climate. It was primarily through the success of MARVI, the Managing Aquifer Recharge and Sustaining Groundwater Use through Village-level Intervention, that the AIWC came to be established. Focussed on engaging village communities to monitor and manage groundwater at the village level, MARVI has had profound impacts on regional communities in India and has been scaled up across 20,000 villages through the Australia Water Partnership and the Atal Bhujal Yojana (ATAL JAL) National Groundwater Management Improvement Program. The University is also proud to have partnered with the Australia-India Water Centre (AIWC) to lead the India Young Water Professionals (YWP) Program which is training the next generation of water professionals. The program is equipping emerging water professionals with the necessary skills, knowledge, behaviours, and networks to better enable them to contribute to the development and management of water resources and water management reforms in India. And, through the equal participation of women, the program also has a targeted focus and remit on improving gender equality and diversity in India.
The University’s partnership with the Hawkesbury-Nepean Waterkeeper Alliance seeks to protect the health and vitality of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River and has achieved recognition from the international Waterkeeper Alliance, a global network of community-based organisations focused on clean water protection.
Support research that provides solutions to the grand challenges of sustainable development, climate change, social injustice, integrity and good governance.
Western Sydney University is home to EucFACE, the Eucalyptus Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment Experiment, a world-class experiment that simulates the impacts of future carbon-dioxide-rich climates on Australia’s native forests. It is one of the world’s only native forest free-air CO2 enrichment programs, tackling the impact of climate change on natural systems.
Our Urban Transformations Research Centre (UTRC) is committed to enabling our communities and infrastructure to be sustainable, equitable and resilient. The multidisciplinary Centre – one of four Strategic Research Initiatives at Western Sydney University – engages with partners and end-users to bring a cross disciplinary focus to imagine the new narratives of social transformation needed in this time of crises.
Western Sydney University is also a global leader in gender equality, recognised as third in the world for Gender Equality, and fourth for reducing inequalities in the 2022 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. The University has been recognised as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality for 19 years and was recently awarded the prestigious Athena Swann Bronze medal under the Science in Gender Equity (SAGE) Program.
The globally esteemed Challenging Racism Project is another example of the University’s support of transformative research projects. The Project is based at Western Sydney University, within one of the most culturally diverse regions in Australia. Since 2002, the Project has supported a new generation of anti-racism researchers and practitioners, including twenty-one staff, and has partnered with government, non-government and community organisations with a shared outlook on intergroup relations and anti-racism initiatives. This impactful Project was the recipient of three global awards: the 2015 PEACEapp award (first in world), the 2014 Intercultural Innovation Award (second in world), and first prize in the Realscreen Diversity and Inclusion Award for non-fiction work dealing with diversity and inclusion.
Provide educational opportunities for students to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.
Universities can provide access to tertiary education for disadvantaged groups, build awareness of privilege, facilitate progressive coalitions and harness a culture of allyship. They can also equip the next generation of leaders, innovators and thinkers to understand the global challenges facing the world and the role they can play in rising to meet these challenges.
Our ‘21C’ curriculum renewal initiative is committed to developing resilient and sustainability literate graduates across almost all of our degree programs. New offerings for all undergraduate students include specialisations in climate justice, equitable technologies, eco-social design and manufacturing, water for life and urban evolutions for smart green cities. We have developed a short microcredential ‘Sustainability: Think, Care, Do’ for students, locally and globally, to provide the building blocks for sustainability thinking, values and action.
Our education offerings also allow students to better understand the global purpose of the SDGs and provide opportunities for our students to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to the Goals and to promote sustainable development.
Western Sydney University also has a Solar Car team made up of students from the fields of Engineering, Industrial Design, Computer Science and Visual Communications. The team became the first international team to win the American Solar Challenge in 2018 and has produced four solar cars over a ten-year period. The students manage all aspects of the production and design of the vehicle, as well as sponsorship, marketing and the administrative elements of their involvement in international competitions.
Contribute to the achievement of the SDGs by ensuring your campus and major programs are environmentally sustainable, including being carbon neutral, fully committed to circular economies and providing environmental virtue to the regions where they are located.
The University’s decadal strategy, Sustainability and Resilience 2030, sets out an ambitious roadmap to address climate adaptation and mitigation, and social inequality. The Strategy is a call to unite as a community around key aspirations and a vision for transitions to sustainable ways of living that leave no one behind. The University’s Sustainable Energy Plan sets bold targets for campus operations to be carbon neutral by 2023 and carbon positive by 2029. The University has fast tracked these targets into action, with electricity supply across all its campuses now 100 per cent Green Power accredited, four years ahead of target.
Thought leadership on SDGs should be international, national and local
As a leading advocate for the economic, cultural and social life of Greater Western Sydney, we are located in a region experiencing first-hand many of the sustainability and resilience challenges of the 21st century, including rapid urban growth, urban heat and entrenched inequalities. Research that breaks new ground and offers solutions to the challenges faced by the modern world can often start as a hyper local project. For example, Western Sydney University research confirmed the viability of Australia’s longest stretch of ‘green track’ as part of the NSW Government’s Parramatta Light Rail project. The green track, which will include up to one kilometre of grass or shrubs plantings between and beside light rail tracks instead of asphalt or concrete, will perform important environmental functions that improve the amenity and ecology of the local area.
For more examples of how Western Sydney University is driving social transformation, refer to their latest, special SDG edition of Future Makers: https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/future-makers/sdgs-issue
23 May 2023
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