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UCalgary ranks top 5% globally for institutions advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

By Asha Sara, June 11 2021—

The University of Calgary has ranked within the top five per cent globally in progressing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) laid out by the United Nations (UN) in 2015.

This ranking comes from the Times Higher Education’s 2021 Universal Impact Ranking (URI), which is the only global ranking that assesses universities against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The 2021 UIR places UCalgary as 43rd out of 1,150 institutions from 94 countries, as well as sixth in Canada for progressing sustainability. The Gauntlet spoke with Áine Keogh, Director of Sustainability Engagement & Reporting at the Office of Sustainability at UCalgary to discuss what this prestigious ranking means for our campus and students.   

“An important piece to remember is that universities as institutions play a significant role in society and community,” said Keogh. “The global impact around sustainability we are having, and I would say the strongest factor, is [the University of Calgary’s] research.”

Last year UCalgary students and faculty members published more than 3,200 academic articles and journals related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Keogh mentions how there are far more projects than there are publications, indicating how many research projects are taking place on campus. 

“Our students and researchers are really advancing what they are doing and publishing. There is a real richness of work among the students and faculty who are doing that research, which all helps move Canada’s contribution to the SDGs,” said Keough.

“I think also there is something to be said about our offices’ focus on the UN’s sustainability goals and that we are helping Canada get there. We are one of almost 500 nations around the world all rowing in the same direction to achieve those goals. The SDGs have provided us all with this one language in sustainability and given us something tangible to focus on,” she said. “A student doing their undergraduate thesis on a topic like social justice, you don’t immediately think they are doing sustainability research, though when you are presented with these Sustainable Development Goals there is something everyone can connect to. You then see the social sustainability being captured more than perhaps it might have been in traditional interpretations of sustainability, I love the inclusivity of the SDGs.”

The University was able to achieve this level of recognition due to student and faculty members’ contributions. Keogh and the Office of Sustainability help organize ways students can get involved to further UCalgary’s contributions to Canada’s commitment to the SDGs. 

“There are many opportunities for students to get involved,” Keogh said “The Embedded Certificate in Sustainability is a great opportunity. You take it as part of your undergraduate, with no additional cost. It goes on your transcript so you leave with something on your resume.” 

The University of Calgary also offers over 500 different sustainability courses at different graduate and undergraduate levels. Keogh encourages students to check out the sustainability course inventory to see how you can incorporate sustainability into your electives.

“As a campus of 35,000 students, we have 15,000 students take one or more sustainability courses,” said Keogh. “When you are talking about a global impact, it’s to do with the sustainability knowledge and leadership we are sending out into the community. So I think our students really speak to that.”

Another program run by the Office of Sustainability which students can get involved with is Campus as a Learning Lab (CLL). The program offers students with innovative learning experiences in sustainability either inside or outside the classroom, according to Keogh. 

“In your free time you would like to build some sustainability skills, you could work with our office a few times a week or work with a community organization. It might be you would like to do your capstone class in Engineering or your MBA, or your thesis on a sustainability topic. All the way up wanting to do your PhD in sustainability,” she explained. “Campus as a Learning Lab will support students at all those levels with tools and resources, access to information, sometimes funding where we can get it from various granting agencies. We would love a situation where every student is graduating with those skills and competencies.” 

The last way Keogh emphasizes that students can get involved is by joining the Sustainable Development Goals Alliance (SDGA), which is a student-run organization at UCalgary. The SDGA is an alliance of  different clubs and societies that are meeting on a regular basis and collaborating together to advance and address different SDGs. Keogh is very proud of all the work the SDGA has done.

“Our office has been in the background funding them with applications, supporting their student programs and helping them organize. All those administrative pieces that are hard for students to do when it’s their volunteer time,” she said. “So I think we have been able to provide some significant structure to the SDGA and allowed them to flourish.” 

With the return to in-person classes next year, Keogh believes it will help expand the university’s ability to support the SDGs.

“The return to campus will accelerate the in-person rich student experience of convening at the Sustainability Resource Center working with their peers on a project or event,” said Keogh.

She also states how in-person classes will allow professors to integrate experiential out-of-the-classroom learning that they usually do in a typical academic year.

“Not just theoretical learning experiences but those hands-on experiences as well will now be easier to provide.”

According to Keogh, the Office of Sustainability aims to support students and try to ignite some of that passion on larger scales and support faculty members to integrate sustainable learning into their curriculum whenever they can.

“The campus achieved this ranking, we at the office are just enabling, coordinating, and helping to tell that story on the behalf of our students and the institution. It’s a huge body of work with lots of parts,” said Keogh. 

“My team and I like to say what gets us out of bed in the morning is ensuring that every student who studies at the University of Calgary gets a sustainability experience as part of their academic career,” she said. “That’s what keeps us going. We are always looking for ways to offer more opportunities to students and faculties, so that is our goal, to continue growing year after year to further UCalgary’s contribution to the SDGs.”

For more information about the different ways to incorporate sustainability into your degree click here.

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