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.
Egypt has one of the largest numbers of students enrolled in higher education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with a total of around 2.4 million students, according to a new Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) report.
The UFM launched a regional dialogue process on the internationalisation of higher education in the Mediterranean region. It noted that internationalisation is not understood as a goal by itself, but a process aimed at enhancing the quality and standards of education and research.
This dialogue intends to facilitate continuous peer learning among the UfM countries on policies and practices addressing common challenges and priorities, and to foster joint projects and initiatives.
In intent to address regional needs and pave the way for a change of scale in the support mechanisms, the UfM launched a study, conducted by the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED).
The study aims at being an effective tool for policymakers and other stakeholders, and set out to investigate the internationalisation of higher education in 10 countries, namely: Algeria; Egypt; Palestine; Israel; Jordan; Lebanon; Libya; Mauritania; Morocco; and Tunisia.
The study focused especially on resources and opportunities available at the national and regional levels.
The report found that in most cases, internationalisation is identified simply as mobility, while a more comprehensive internationalisation strategy would be highly beneficial for institutions and staff, and may increase attractiveness and participation.
The report also showed that in a year’s average before the pandemic, over 220,000 students moved around the world came from MENA countries, which in turn hosted over 134,000 international students.
“Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia have a net outflow of student mobility, while Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan have a net inflow, particularly from the rest of Asia and some African countries,” according to the UFM.
The report also revealed that South and East Mediterranean Countries have been increasingly sending and receiving students to and from the MENA region, alongside Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, India, and China.
Malaysia is one of the most active actors in the Mediterranean area, constantly boosting its cooperation with Arab countries and higher education institutions.
The report showed that academic mobility is overwhelmingly from South to North in the region. The low attractiveness of local higher education systems, including quality and diversity of research, prevents Southern Mediterranean countries from achieving reciprocal mobility.
“The EU’s Erasmus+ programme is generating the largest impact on the internationalisation strategies of higher education institutions,” the report noted, “Meanwhile, in the South-Eastern Mediterranean region, there is a focus on national activities and bilateral cooperation, rather than on a regional approach.”
It added that universities in the MENA region perceive themselves as more teaching-oriented than research-oriented, as the research sector suffers from low budget allocation. All countries in the study spend less than 1% of GDP on Research and Developments (R&D).
The report revealed that obstacles to effective internationalisation include: high fragmentation in the procedures and systems of credit recognition and assessment of qualifications; and difficulties obtaining visas for international mobility. The latter point affects particularly MENA countries to access Europe.
A series of recommendations emerge from the study, both at national and regional level. They were formulated taking in consideration the most relevant existing best practices and initiatives that can be replicated and up-scaled in the region.
They point out proposals regarding information-sharing mechanisms, the improvement of present regional initiatives and programmes, and synergies and complementarities between existing mobility schemes and programmes. This is in addition to appropriate capacity-development mechanisms for Higher Education Institutions.
The report was presented during an online event recently, which introduced the results of the study and launched the preparation of a renewed policy agenda for the region.
Nasser Kamel, Secretary-General of the UfM, stated in the report that, only by investing in the region’s future and youth, will the region be able, as internationalisation practitioners, to guarantee a framework of sustainability and prosperity in the Mediterranean.
Leading scholar says region must place more importance on liberal arts, not just science and engineering, to build better societies by Anna McKie could be an unprecedented way of covering the recurring issue of underdevelopment not through traditional knowledge but by using the art and humanities knowledge. Let us see what is proposed as per the very words of a Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development.
Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development
April 8, 2021
Students in the Middle East and North Africa are too often more interested in “acquiring” a degree than developing the understanding that should come with it, a leading scholar has warned.
Safwan Masri, Columbia University’s executive vice-president for global centres and global development, said too many young people were steered into courses focused on science and engineering when critical thinking and intercultural understanding were desperately needed across the region.
Speaking at Times Higher Education’s MENA Universities Summit, Professor Masri said future leaders being trained in institutions across the region were “not fully prepared to lead”, the product of “technocratic societies led by a global technocratic class”.
“Students – and the parents who bankroll them – are often more interested in acquiring professional certification than truly understanding the world and the role of an educated citizen within it,” said Professor Masri.
“Here in MENA, young people fortunate enough to attend university are almost unilaterally steered into STEM training.
“But STEM competency is only half of the equation. We need people who also know how to organise societies, articulate and secure alignment on political ideals, and build robust civil societies that expand rights and freedoms to historically marginalised groups.”
Professor Masri, an expert on the contemporary Arab world and the head of Columbia’s study centre in Amman, Jordan, said the solution had to be a greater embrace of liberal arts education across the region.
He acknowledged that this “won’t be easy” because generations of Arabs “have been indoctrinated with hyper-nationalist propaganda, exclusionary rhetoric and dogmatic religious discourse at the expense of critical thinking and questioning skills”.
“Progress cannot be achieved without deprogramming and reprogramming this mindset, to learn to coexist with different points of view and ways of life,” Professor Masri said.
“Unless liberal arts training is more highly valued in this region, the region’s ambitions will be thwarted. We must achieve balance. We must help students – and the parents who fund many of them – understand the crucial interplay between content [of academic training] and context [understanding of society].”
At the summit, held online in partnership with NYU Abu Dhabi, Professor Masri also argued that at a time of geopolitical turmoil and “historic levels of misunderstanding” between countries and the people within them, knowledge diplomacy led by universities “may be our last and best tool if we are to rebuild a broken world”. He highlighted Columbia’s decision to maintain its global centre in Istanbul even in the face of increasing persecution of academics.
“The solution wasn’t to give in, we contended, but to dig in – to support academics and students, to continue to share knowledge,” Professor Masri said.
But Professor Masri expressed concern about the “weaponisation” of knowledge, highlighting that while Gulf states’ attempts to exercise soft power by funding Middle East studies centres in Western universities ostensibly had “no strings attached”, there were “uncomfortable stories” of researchers at these centres coming under pressure after writing about issues such as human rights and democracy.
A better model of knowledge diplomacy, he argued, was that of the Covid vaccines, which were the result of thousands of researchers crossing the globe over decades, generating the knowledge that informed the vaccines’ designs.
“The Covid vaccine represents decades’ worth, perhaps even centuries’ worth, of university-generated knowledge – distilled down to little more than an ounce of liquid, all concentrated in a single shot,” Professor Masri said.
“This medical and scientific breakthrough will reconnect the people of the world.”
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Deep in the Algerian desert, a Sahrawi-run event puts Western Sahara’s struggle for liberation on the big screen. 25 November 2022 The image above is of GOV.UK By Ariel Sophia Bardi, a freelance writer and photographer based in Rome. AUSERD REFUGEE CAMP, Algeria—At about 10 p.m., in the middle of the Sahara desert, just two lights […]
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