Published by University World News and written by Nic Mitchell, we are informed how international organisations are gearing themselves to confront this literally ongoing climate deregulation through higher education. It’s about how a New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action for future leaders is aimed through this ultimate degree.
New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action
Plans are advancing at speed to create a new postgraduate degree specialising on the Paris Agreement on climate change in a bid to develop future leaders able to tackle the challenges of sustainability and advance transformative climate action, the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022) in Barcelona, Spain, heard.
World Higher Education Conference 2022.
This conference is convened by UNESCO and University World News is the exclusive media partner.
Professor Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi, director of the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) in Tokyo, Japan, outlined the aims when opening the session at WHEC2022 on how higher education can accelerate climate action under the Paris Agreement.
She described the UNU-IAS, which she assumed leadership of in 2019, as a bridge between UN agencies and higher education, and told delegates to the Barcelona conference that work was progressing well on launching a new postgraduate degree on the Paris Agreement and climate sustainability, which was first mooted at COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow.
First of its kind
“The degree will be the first of its kind in the world and the goal is to provide the skills needed across the world to teach action… to implement the Paris Agreement through higher education.”
Professor Yamaguchi said: “Our UNU institute in Tokyo is dedicated to realising a sustainable future for the people and our planet through policy-orientated research, education and capacity development focusing on sustainability, including looking at climate change and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”
The new postgraduate degree specialisation on the Paris Agreement on climate change is being developed in close collaboration with governments, leading universities and development partners and builds on an existing MSc in Sustainability and a PhD in Sustainability Science offered by UNU-IAS.
Together these two programmes currently have 38 students from 20 developing countries, with scholarships provided to over half of the students.
Develop future climate action leaders
“We are aiming to develop future leaders who will be at the forefront of the climate and sustainable development agenda,” said Yamaguchi, who announced that applications for the new Paris Agreement postgraduate degree will be invited at the end of 2022 and the programme will start in September 2023.
COP26 in Glasgow called on the world to keep the global increase in temperatures to 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial level, but to implement the measures requires a huge amount of knowledge and government cannot do everything, she said.
“You need large stakeholder coalitions to tackle issues such as phasing out coal and all parties acknowledge the importance of education about environment,” said Yamaguchi.
Transparency a key issue
Transparency, monitoring and accountability are going to be key issues for governments and businesses in meeting the Paris Agreement goals and higher education will play a key role, so people understand climate science.
“We need to develop dynamic training for experts, and coordination across sectors and institutions to collect and share data… and lack of coordination is a problem in many countries,” Yamaguchi told the conference.
Dr Won Jung Byun, programme specialist at UNESCO’s Section of Education for Sustainable Development, welcomed the new qualification from the United Nations University and told the conference that only half of national curricula worldwide mention climate change and fewer than 20% of teachers are able to explain action needed to tackle climate change.
Education systems around the world need to do much more to provide learners with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to overcome the climate crisis and sustainability challenges, she said.
Can’t just be left to higher education
But it can’t just be left to higher education, speakers at the session at the UNESCO conference stressed.
Laurent Cortese, deputy head of the Education-Vocational Training-Employment and Higher Education Division of the French Agency for Development, which mainly works in education and development in countries in Africa, said: “If we leave it to higher education, it is too late. We need a holistic approach and to work on environmental and climate issues with the rest of the education system.”
Teacher training is part of higher education in many countries, he pointed out, adding: “We need to ensure coordination between those in charge of higher education and education as a whole and show the importance of issues like climate change and biodiversity.”
Akio Takemoto, programme head at UNU-IAS in Tokyo, agreed it was important to start explaining the impact of climate change at the primary and school level and there was a need for innovative ways to provide a continuous and high-capacity educational system.
Need to look at all levels
“While there was a lot of talk about Masters degrees and PhDs, we also need highly skilled technical people and it is important we train engineers to work with these technicians. We have to look at all levels of higher education.”
Dr Kanako Morita, senior researcher at the Center for Biodiversity and Climate Change with the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Tsukuba, Japan, told the session: “Youth education is important, but so are other actors, including the companies and financial institutions and local government, who are keen to learn more about climate change. We need to consider education at all levels and social scientists have a big role to play.”
Produce ‘maestros’ to get message across
Cortese said the education system needed to produce “maestros” able to get the message across and with the capacity to handle the difficult questions on a scientific basis.
“We can help identify students who can participate in such programmes in the countries where we intervene. Too often, we all work among ourselves with people who we agree with, but that’s not always the most productive.
“We need to set up partnerships with people who don’t necessarily think the same way we do, [and] that would force students to examine their arguments and to review them.
“It is important to develop soft skills and to meet the needs of different people and not just work with university partnerships with the same outlook.
“We need to establish partnerships with companies, so people go outside their comfort zone and are prepared when they meet people who might not think as they do and who are able to see things in a different way.”
Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at www.delacourcommunications.com.
Accepting industry money risks distorting research and allowing polluting firms to greenwash their reputations, says Zak Coleman. However before A fossil fuel divestment ‘how-to’, it is advisable not to overlook or ignore what has been said before now.
Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response
I became the University of Cambridge’s students’ union undergraduate president in the wake of the university’s historic decision to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. I felt hopeful. The university was waking up to the urgent need to combat the climate crisis. It finally understood the damaging consequences of lending its reputational legitimacy to the industry driving this emergency.
Or so I thought.
Working at the students’ union, I became increasingly aware that the university’s involvement with fossil fuel companies extended far beyond its investments. The BP Institute and the professorship of complex physical systems sponsored by offshore drilling company Schlumberger are just two of the countless industry links that Cambridge retains. Everywhere I looked, I saw the university inviting the very same companies it had just condemned as unconscionable investments to be senior partners in its core research activities.
This felt like an enormous betrayal. Universities are supposed to be committed to supporting young people and our futures. But here was my university collaborating extensively with the companies destroying that future.
But it’s not just the hypocrisy that concerns me. Universities’ research partnerships with the fossil fuel industry also undermine their ability to effectively address the climate emergency.
Let’s be clear. Industry executives have known about the devastating climate impacts of their business for more than 50 years. Instead of acting on the science, however, they spent millions of pounds spreading climate disinformation and expanded their fossil fuel operations. They continue to engage in extensive anti-climate political lobbying and resolutely focus the overwhelming majority of their business on fossil fuels, including building new infrastructure and exploring for new reserves. Meanwhile, the world’s top scientists and energy experts are clear that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and avoid runaway climate breakdown.
In contrast, universities like Cambridge are respected globally for upholding the highest standards of scientific integrity and intellectual rigour. Like it or not, partnerships between such higher education institutions and companies that have spent decades ignoring, silencing and discrediting these universities’ very own scientists are a PR gift for the fossil fuel industry. They allow these firms to misrepresent themselves as reformed leaders of the green transition. They send a clear message to governments, policymakers and wider civil society: if universities like Cambridge deem these companies serious on climate-related issues, why shouldn’t we? Ultimately, they help to stall desperately overdue political action to address the climate emergency.
Accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry also raises serious questions about researchers’ ability to conduct truly independent climate-related research. Academics must be free to determine their own research agendas, speak their minds and publish their findings without fear of censorship, reprisal or the denial of funding for future projects. Yet numerous studies demonstrate that industry funding skews research agendas and outcomes in directions favourable to industry interests, and that common safeguarding measures are often inadequate mitigation. This is why, for decades, research institutions have rejected tobacco industry funding for public health research. The same principle must be extended to fossil fuel funding of climate-related research. Independent climate research is just too important to tolerate such risks.
Governments and universities now have a profound responsibility to provide alternatives to industry funding. This is especially true for our wealthiest universities, which frequently accept the most fossil fuel research funding. Indeed, despite being Europe’s wealthiest university, Cambridge accepted more from oil companies between 2017 and 2021than all other UK universities bar one – Imperial College London.
Such universities have large, well-established fundraising departments capable of raising phenomenal sums. Philanthropic giving to US universities rose by 6.9 per cent in 2021 alone, topping $52 billion (£40 billion). The notion that there are no alternatives to fossil fuel industry funding is dangerously false.
Last month, more than 500 leading academics signed an open letter calling for universities to cut research ties with the fossil fuel industry. Among those supporting the letter, which is still open for signatures, are Nobel Prize winners; the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson; and numerous scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
We know the fossil fuel industry will continue to ignore the calls of these distinguished climate experts. But we expect better from our universities. Our planet is in ecological cardiac arrest, yet it is the fossil fuel industry that our universities are helping keep on life support. It is long past time for this to end.
Zak Coleman is undergraduate president of the Cambridge Students’ Union. Twitter: @SU_PresidentUG
COP26 is the world’s best – and perhaps last – chance to get runaway climate change under control, and to reach net zero HE needs to act swiftly, says Manveer Gill. Students demand action on the climate crisis now – not later is reported by Times Higher Education. Would however the rest of society follow by perhaps making it a “civic virtue” or merely by being a “good” citizen, through the vital and full participation of each and every one?
Students demand action on the climate crisis now – not later
There is now no doubt at all that today’s younger generation (and future generations) will face an array of impacts stemming from an increasingly destabilised climate, from heat waves and flooding becoming more frequent and more severe, to supply chain disruptions and food insecurity.
Universities must prepare themselves for these changes and develop action plans to bring their own greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, thus contributing to the mitigation of a higher global temperature and the associated, more severe impacts. How they prepare themselves and what they focus on is key. There is both a significant opportunity and a moral duty for universities to support their students in the face of impending climate-induced adversity.
As highlighted by Students Organising for Sustainability UK’s research in 2021, most students do not currently have access to the educational opportunities that will provide them with the knowledge and skills needed to tackle the climate emergency and adapt to a changing world, both socially and economically.
This omission within personal and professional development will lead to difficulties for graduates in gaining sustainable careers − both within the sustainable development field itself and working for wider businesses as they are mandated to shift in line with a low-carbon reality.
Additionally, without proactively supporting students to develop the knowledge, skills and values needed to respond to the climate emergency on a personal level, the health and well-being of students is expected to suffer further as the impacts of climate change increase.
It is imperative, therefore, that universities provide climate education to all and embed “education for sustainable development” within curricula. Doing so will also reduce the chances that students and graduates will require retraining to be able to contribute further to net-zero futures.
Rather than a one-way line of communication and action, there is an opportunity for students to be engaged and consulted in the creation and delivery of such reforms, and indeed this should be the case for broader institutional sustainability plans. Being open and transparent will pave the way for stronger relations between students, staff and their institutions. It is precisely because climate change will have such alarming impacts that universities will need to empower their students during this transition.
For universities to mitigate their own climate impacts, they will need to rethink how they organise themselves. Whether their efforts are sufficient to reach net zero can only be determined if universities provide transparent and comparable statistics as part of regular emissions reporting.
At present within the UK, only Scottish universities are mandated to report institutional emissions, with an expectation for targets for net zero to be included in 2022 submissions. This lack of a regulatory reporting framework for the sector, specifically on climate action and disclosure of emissions and targets, has restricted progress by HE in this regard.
It puts HE institutions at risk of greenwashing audiences without taking the necessary steps to address the climate emergency or being held to account in doing so. We have already seen the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority mandate climate disclosure for premium listed UK companies in line with recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. For HE to keep up and become leaders in the global transition to net zero, we need to see the creation and implementation of a mandatory reporting framework, which includes Scope 3 emissions – indirect emissions resulting from institutions’ activities, such as business travel and employee commuting – as well as target- and strategy-setting requirements.
As part of this, the student commissioners have published a student statement using input and feedback from student focus groups. The student statement includes nine demands for addressing identified gaps or issues within the UK’s HE sector in tackling the climate emergency. This statement will be sent, along with signatures from supporting students across the UK, to COY16 delegates who will present these views at COP26 in Glasgow next month.
COP26, the UN’s annual global climate summit, is the world’s best – and perhaps last – chance to get runaway climate change under control. To reach net zero and help protect the world’s communities, HE needs to act swiftly − and the UK government must support and mandate this action while also financing the transition.
HE plays a pivotal role in creating countries’ future leaders and others involved across our economies, while also acting as social and economic hubs for local communities. The action that the sector takes will have implications for society collectively. We owe it to the students of now and the future to lead by example.
Manveer Gill is one of four student climate commissioners at the Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education. He is also a maths graduate from the University of Warwick and an honorary fellow of the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC).
Overall, 22 Saudi Arabian universities are ranked in the list. On average, the country performs particularly well on metrics relating to the share of international staff, international co-authorship and institutional income.
The United Arab Emirates is the only other nation with more than one institution in the top 10; Khalifa University and United Arab Emirates University are sixth and seventh respectively, with both institutions receiving high scores for metrics relating to the research environment.
Qatar has only one representative in the table – the flagship Qatar University – but it claims second place thanks to strong scores across the board.
Meanwhile, Egypt is the most-represented nation, with 31 institutions, led by Zewail City of Science and Technology in 10th place. Five other Egyptian universities feature in the top 20. The country receives a strong average score for citation impact and teaching reputation, the latter of which is based on the first THE survey exclusively dedicated to published academics in the Arab region. Egypt is also home to the most leading large universities in the region; there are 20 ranked institutions with more than 50,000 students and all of the top 10 are in the North African country.
Overall, 125 institutions from 14 countries are ranked in the inaugural Arab University Rankings, with the vast majority (100) being public institutions. A further 30 institutions are listed with “reporter” status, meaning that they provided data but did not meet our eligibility criteria to receive a rank. The top-ranked private university is Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University in fourth place.
The ranking is THE’s most comprehensive assessment of higher education in the Arab region to date. Fifty-five of the ranked institutions, including Bahrain and Palestine’s two representatives each, did not feature in the latest World University Rankings due to its stricter eligibility criteria. Iraq is the third most-represented nation in the Arab ranking, with 16 ranked institutions (and a further 15 with reporter status), but only two of these were included in the global table.
The methodology behind the Arab ranking is based on the same framework as the global table, but some adjustments have been made and some new metrics have been included to reflect the features and missions of universities in the Arab region. There are regional measures on reputation and collaboration as well as metrics related to social impact.
Nasser Al-Aqeeli, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for research and innovation, said that the country’s strong performance in the ranking was partly driven by recent policies to strengthen research and innovation in universities.
The Ministry of Education has worked with a number of public and private sectors to establish 12 national research and innovation priority areas “to help universities focus their research on what is needed in Saudi Arabia”, Professor Al-Aqeeli said. It has also worked directly with institutions on their own research strategies based on their strengths and what is needed in their local cities and regions.
Meanwhile, last year the ministry initiated a new national funding system for universities. The “institutional fund program” gives a pot of research funding to each university and the university administration manages how this is distributed to its academics, instead of scholars submitting grant proposals to the ministry, to help speed up the process. As a result, Saudi Arabia was ranked first in the Arab world and 14th globally for the number of coronavirus-related research publications, Professor Al-Aqeeli said.
Habib Fardoun, director of the Observatory Center for Academic Standards and Excellence at King Abdulaziz University, said that the institution’s research projects are all done in collaboration with international, regional and national partners to acheive the strongest results, while over the last 10 years the university has worked on improving the quality of its education.
On the Arab ranking more broadly, Dr Fardoun said the methodology is “aligned with the Arab countries’ strategies”, which will enable governments to measure the outputs of their universities and to give institutions more support in shaping and fulfilling these strategies.
Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE, said that universities in the Arab world have achieved “very strong progress” in recent years in the World University Rankings but “the increased presence of Arabic institutions in the global ranking does not do full justice to the rich diversity of the sector, and does not fully reflect the range of activities and missions at the regional level, or the priorities of more regionally focused institutions”.
“So it is very exciting that this new, bespoke ranking for the Arab region allows us to offer a more nuanced, regional context, allowing many more institutions in the region to benchmark themselves against a range of relevant performance indicators and deploy THE’s trusted data to support their missions and their development,” he said.
Countries represented in the Arab University Rankings 2021
University World News, in an article on how Mauritius is unfolding its development strategy as a practical approach for universities to contribute to its SDGs could be an example for countries of the MENA region to follow suit.
The image above is for illustration and is of the UN‘s definition of SDGs.
A practical approach for universities to contribute to SDGs
The United Nations’ 2020 report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) asserts that “progress remained uneven and we were not on track to meet the goals by 2030”.
Worst of all, it appears that, with the pandemic, decades of progress have been reversed.
Antonio Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations (UN), notes in his message in the report that, while some progress has been achieved, “At the same time, the number of people suffering from food insecurity was on the rise, the natural environment continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate, and dramatic levels of inequality persisted in all regions. Change was still not happening at the speed or scale required.”
This is alarming, to say the least.
Getting back on track
The Stockholm Environment Institute proposes three ways to get the SDGs back on track. They are:
• Set priorities by setting realistic targets;
• Focus on harnessing the environmental dimension of the SDGs, as failure to achieve biodiversity will impact on the wider sustainability agenda related to ocean health, well-being, economic equity, clean water and the responsible use of resources; and
• Understand how the SDGs work as an indivisible system, and look for synergies avoiding over-prioritisation.
On the other hand, universities appear to be contributing their part to Agenda 2030, which is the target date for achieving the SDGs.
Recently, Times Higher Education published its third edition of the Impact Rankings, which assessed the SDG performance of universities from 94 countries using a set of indicators across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach and teaching.
One can, however, question whether these indicators provide a real and effective assessment of the contribution of universities to the SDGs.
Another important element is how to get universities in the developing world to embrace the SDGs.
The answer to the latter question is for universities to strategise sustainability as a key objective and use the SDGs as a platform for impactful action.
At the same time, universities have to realise that the SDGs are well defined and it is through partnerships with the public and private sector and civil society that the goals can be achieved at local, regional and international levels.
A mapping of the 17 SDGs, which have been divided into 169 targets or indicators, shows that government alone is responsible for 47% of the SDG targets (80 targets), while universities alone can contribute to just 4% of the targets (seven targets).
On the other hand, universities can address 43% of the targets working bilaterally with government or industry and in a tripartite manner with the two sectors (see Figure 1). This is significant, as the overall contribution of universities can add up to a total of 47% of targets.
Based on the data, a mapping of how universities address SDG targets and indicators could shed more light on their effective contributions to the SDGs.
University of Mauritius
The University of Mauritius (UoM) is effectively bringing its share to a number of targets. A few examples are cited to illustrate the targeted approach (targets or indicators are listed and the university’s contribution is explained thereafter).
Target 2.4: By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters, and that progressively improve land and soil quality.
An Agri-Tech Park has been set up on the university campus. The university works closely with the government and industry to support and enhance productivity, efficiency and sustainability in agriculture and food, through research, entrepreneurship and innovation. The three main areas of focus are smart and digital agriculture, food security and agri-processing.
Target 3.6: By 2030, halve global deaths from road traffic accidents.
Through its Road Safety Observatory, the UoM is working with the ministry of land transport and light rail to reduce road injuries and deaths. The primary focus of the observatory is to collect road safety data and organise knowledge to support all aspects of road safety policy development at national level.
The observatory has the responsibility to lead research on road safety issues, develop effective, regionally appropriate responses, deliver comprehensive and effective training, coordinate data monitoring and reporting as well as serve as a centre of excellence and as a hub for practical and effective advice.
Target 7.3: Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.
The university has a partnership with the ministry of energy and public utilities. University academics with expertise in energy matters bring their contribution to the national level by conducting energy audits and advise on energy management and efficiency.
Target 8.2: To achieve higher levels of productivity of economies through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high value-added and labour-intensive sectors; and
Target 9.5: Enhance scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors in all countries, in particular developing countries, including, by 2030, encouraging innovation and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers per one million people and public and private research and development spending.
This happens through the design and fabrication of the NanoTech Mask, a joint venture between the Centre for Biomedical and Biomaterials Research (at the University and RT Knits Ltd, a Mauritian-based textile company).
Target 14.1: By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.
This target is being pursued through publication of the African Marine Litter Monitoring Manual in partnership with the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association and the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Target 14.3: Minimise and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.
This project involves the setting up of an Oceanic Carbonate Chemistry Observatory in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Mauritius.
Target 14.5: By 2020, conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on best available scientific information; and
Target 14a: Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing states and least-developed countries.
The increase in scientific knowledge, research and technology of ocean health is advanced through the coral rehabilitation of the Mauritian lagoons.
An SDG mapping framework
By focusing on targets and working in close partnerships with the government and industry, universities, particularly in the developing world, can make more of an impact and better assist in achieving the SDGs, despite limited financial means and constraints.
A coordinated strategy is essential for enhanced effectiveness including both a ‘bottom-up’ approach in order to create a mapping framework at institutional, national and regional or continental level and ‘top-down’ steering mechanisms to coordinate collaborative work on SDG achievement institutionally, nationally and continentally, as summarised in Figure 2.
An appropriate mapping framework, primarily for developmental and not ranking purposes, based on SDG targets and indicators, should help institutions to map their achievements and through partnerships learn and collaborate to further enhance their contributions.
The sharing of experiences and best practices at the continental level through university SDG clusters and university cluster leaders could lead to a more impactful contribution of universities on the African continent and also enable the voices of the continent to be heard at international level.
This commentary is an edited version of a presentation at a colloquium organised by the Southern African Regional Universities Association on 19 May 2021.
Professor Dhanjay Jhurry was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius (UoM) in March 2017. His vision is to foster innovation at the university, and establish it as research-engaged and entrepreneurial. From 2012-17 he was the national research chair in biomaterials and drug delivery at the Mauritius Research Council, while heading the Centre for Biomedical and Biomaterials Research, which he founded at the UoM. Jhurry studied at Bordeaux University in France and received a PhD degree in polymer chemistry in 1992. After spending three years as a research chemist at the Flamel Technologies Company in Lyon, France, he joined the department of chemistry at the University of Mauritius as a lecturer and was promoted to professor in 2005. His mainstream research in polymer science, biomaterials and tissue engineering, nanotechnology/nanomedicine and drug delivery has led to more than 75 papers in scholarly journals, with an h-index of 21. He has received various national and international awards, the recognition including the first Best Mauritian Scientist Award in 2011, the Grand Officer of the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean and the Commander of the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean insignia from the Republic of Mauritius in 2019 and 2012, respectively, as well as the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques insignia from the Republic of France in 2007. Jhurry has been an elected member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) since July 2017, and a member of the Scientific Council of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie since September 2019. He was appointed chair of the ACU SDG Network in January 2020. He is also a fellow of the African Academy of Sciences.
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