24.07.2017 - New York Office

UNESCO emphasizes the role of universities and higher education institutions in fostering sustainable development and empowering learners


On 19 July 2017, UNESCO, as a partner of the Higher Education Initiative (HESI), joined the side event “Higher Education Institutions – Key Driver of the Sustainable Development”, held at the United Nations Headquarters.

The side event organized for higher education institutions at the margins of the High-Level Political Forum 2017 and in conjunction with the 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, brought together government officials, academia, university administrators, UN representatives, sustainability professionals and students. H.E. Mr. Peter Thompson, President of the UN General Assembly, Ms. Isabelle Durant, Deputy-Secretary-General, UNCTAD, and Mr. Jamil Ahmad, Deputy Director of UN Environment-New York, participated in the meeting.

The event showcased how Sustainable Development Goals are being integrated into sustainability strategies, research, teaching, pedagogy, and campus practices, and positioned higher education institutions as one of the key drivers for the implementation of Agenda 2030.

In his welcoming remarks, H.E. Peter Thompson, President of the UN General Assembly, stated that access to quality education is a fundamental building block for sustaining peace and sustainable development.  He further emphasized the role of higher education institutions in supporting the implementation of Agenda 2030 by providing the data and research and analytical knowledge base required for targeted and effective policy-making.

Mr. Jonas Haertle, Head of PRME Secretariat at UN Global Compact, outlined the pivotal role of partnership with all stakeholders for the implementation of the Agenda 2030, putting a special focus on the role of higher education institutions in this process. He highlighted the importance of HESI, as a unique platform bringing together academia, key UN actors, organizations and agencies. In the conclusion of his remarks, Mr. Haertle handed to H.E. Peter Thomson an outcome declaration of the meeting that says: “through responsible management education, we are calling on all our stakeholders to help to achieve a world, where extreme poverty is eliminated, inequality is reduced, climate change is under control and loss biodiversity and ecosystems is stopped.”  

On behalf of UNESCO, Ms. Marie Paule Roudil, Director of UNESCO New York, emphasized UNESCO’s long-standing mandate in higher education, highlighting the key role of higher education institutions in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and promotion of the Education for Sustainable Development.

“Universities and higher education institutions can provide advice and guidance on strengthening national education systems, as well as aspects of capacity-building across different sectors. They can provide expertise and strengthen the interface between research-findings and decision-making, using evidence-based data, as well as problem-based scientific research”, Ms. Roudil outlined.

Mr. Aurelien Decamps, General Secretary of SULITEST, presented a flagship initiative, developed by HESI and UN DESA - SDG SULITEST Assessment, an online training and assessment tool aimed to raise awareness on sustainability, and measure sustainability literacy in the Sustainable Development Goals framework. Mr. Decamps emphasized that the project contributes to the Target 4.7, but also provides a database on sustainability literacy, that can be used to assess all scope of the Sustainable Development Goals. He further shared that a specialized training module, developed in collaboration with UN DESA, has been launched to train citizens on the SDGs framework, processes and mechanisms. 

The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative is a partnership between UNESCO, UNDESA, UNEP, UN Global Compact’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative, United Nations University, UN-HABITAT and UNCTAD. Created in 2012 in the run-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), HESI provides higher education institutions with a unique interface between higher education, science, and policy-making.

UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a mandate in higher education. The Organization promotes higher education in an increasingly knowledge-based society as a key factor for cultural, economic and social development, as an endogenous capacity-builder and as a promoter of human rights, sustainable development, democracy, peace and justice.

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