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Sustainable development is the greatest challenge in the twenty-first century, and higher education institutions can influence global efforts to create a sustainable future. THE Impact Rankings is an essential tool for universities to map their progress towards meeting these goals. Elsevier’s report titled “The Power of Data to Advance the SDGs” acknowledges the crucial role research plays to address and to tackle these challenges and highlights that article output, collaboration, and impact are lagging.

Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham organized a two-day International Symposium on “Universities – SDG Performance & Ranking” on August 3 and 4, 2021, featuring thought leaders in higher education and the industry. The event facilitated meaningful discussions on SDGs in the context of on-ground research, university strategies, funding perspectives, government policies, and ranking impacts.

Amrita’s efforts to harmonize scientific knowledge and spiritual learning to create a sustainable future were recognized as the university secured the 81st position in THE Impact rankings and is the only Indian university to achieve this feat. In addition, the university’s approach focusing on compassion-driven research is closely aligned with the UN SDG’s universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

Distinguished Speakers

The event had the presence of 23 distinguished speakers from 9 countries. 10 Indian educational leaders from across the country shared their best practices. The expert speakers included Prof. Sasmitarani Samanta, Pro Vice Chancellor, KIIT University; Prof. Satheesh Kumar Bhandary, Vice Chancellor, NITTE University; Prof. Bhavani Rao UNESCO Chair, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham; Prof. Bipin Nair, Dean, School of Biotechnology, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham; Prof. T. G. Sitharam, Director, IIT Guwahati, India; Prof. Madhu Chitkara, Pro-chancellor, Chitkara University; Prof. Asis Kumar Chattopadhyay; Pro Vice Chancellor, University of Calcutta, Prof. Maneesha V. Ramesh, UNESCO Chair, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham; and Prof. B. Suresh Pro Chancellor, JSS Academy of Higher Education.

Another highlight of the symposium was the presence of women educational leaders in India, which is rare. Six women leaders spoke at the event.


Introductory Session

The Two-Day International Symposium on Universities-SDG Performance & Ranking started with a small prayer and a video on Chancellor’s humanitarian initiatives.

The opening remarks of the Symposium was given by Prof. Raghu Raman, Director, Global Rankings & Accreditations, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. Prof. Raghu said “The inspiration for the theme for this International Symposium comes directly from our chancellor Amma. The New Education Policy, NEP 2020, announced by our honorable Prime Minister of India had a focus on SDG 4 and clearly believes that free, equitable, and quality education while building upon India’s traditional value systems forms the basis for sustainable development. In less than nine years remaining to achieve the sustainable development goals there is an urgent need for Higher Education Institutions to play a crucial role in achieving the 2030 SDG 4 targets by integrating SDGs into the teaching-learning process and by undertaking locally, regionally, and internationally prioritizing research with global impact.”

He added, “The nodal agencies of Higher Education in India, namely the UGC and the AICTE, have taken very proactive steps to improve sustainable development and competence of our students, faculty, and staff with Initiatives like the Swayam, Swachh Campus, Green Campus rankings. The NAAC, which is the nodal agency in India for accrediting quality for Higher Education Institutions, has also specific parameters on environment consciousness and sustainability. It is a proud moment for many Indian universities who have been ranked in the top 100 in the world for many of the SDGs.”

Prof. Raman further added, “For the first time since the adoption of SDGs in 2015 the global average of the SDG Index score for 2020 has decreased from the previous year. The decline driven by the decreased poverty rates and unemployment following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Against this backdrop, out discussion, sharing of ideas on SDG performance by universities assumes significance.”

The Presidential Address for the event was given by the Vice Chancellor of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Prof. P. Venkat Rangan. He stressed on how Amrita University is trying to fulfil the SDG Goals and mentioned about the rankings of Amrita in The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings in his presidential address.

In the introductory session Dr. V Maneesha. V Ramesh, UNESCO Chair for Experiential Learning for Sustainable Innovation & Development, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India presented on the Vision of Amrita on SDG in the form of LIVE-IN LABS PROGRAM. She addressed how various disciplines of students get involved and attracted to universities programs on sustainable development and also in achieving university’s SDG goals through compassion driven programs.

She also explained Amrita’s initiatives towards empowering women, unemployment, illiteracy, safe practices of drinking water and proper sanitation programs and health care support provided towards the needy by identifying and establishing projects for supporting villages. She also pointed out all the sustainable initiatives taken by Amrita University all over the country like landslide detection system, Amala Bharatham, rural electrification using solar PV monogrids, public and maternal health programs, tablet-based education etc.

Keynote Addresses by Distinguished Speakers

Shri. Amitabh Kant, IAS, CEO, NITI Aayog, and Prof. Anil D. Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, AICTE, were the keynote speakers, both advocates of implementing SDGs in research, policy, and practice.

On Day-1 Shri. Amitabh Kant, IAS, CEO, Niti Aayog emphasized that the new NEP has revitalized the Indian education system and that with greater autonomy higher education sector must focus on increasing research output aligned with the SDG goals. Shri. Amitabh Kant said, “It is now high time that we focus on SDG oriented stock taking of higher education institutions. There is already a noticeable movement in this regard. Over the last three years, Indian universities have started taking part in the Times Higher Education SDG Impact Rankings, which facilitate comparison across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching. However, there is a need for a national ranking system for higher education institutions, which can potentially replicate what has been achieved in the case of state governments and UT administrations through the SDG India Index.”

He added, “Higher education institutions must start coherent and organized steps to monitor and improve their contribution towards SDGs. A National Ranking of Higher Education Institutes can be an important and a useful stride in this direction and NITI Aayog will be happy to be a part of this conversation.”

During the Keynote address on Day-2 Prof. Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, AICTE shared his observations on why the data analyzed from universities and students differ stating that young university students are often idealistic and they are troubled by problems like world hunger and poverty while strongly believing in peace and justice for all. Prof. Sahasrabudhe said, “The goals 1, 2, 3 are all related but the way each one of us look at these is completely different and is reflected in statistics shown by Duncan reflects that the individual’s philosophy and the institutional philosophy” and the age of the individual since youngsters are more idealistic.

He further added, “In the various parameters of SDG, I still rate SDG 4 Quality Education as the most important whether someone rates it or not. The reason is this is the one goal which is indirectly, directly connected with all other 16 goal. In COVID times we have seen how by educating people the number of cases got reduced in certain areas and not in other areas. It means that healthcare also has relation with education. I should say that SDG 4 should be kept at the center and all other 16 goals should be rotated around that and that is what we should be doing. How can SDG 4 bring in all the 16 goals into the curriculum is most important and significant. AICTE has started the Green Campus award then we graduated to Green, Clean and Smart Campus Awards. Smartness is where you measure things and you will be able to transform change in the institution because once you measure it you will know where we are going wrong and if you don’t measure anything you don’t know.”

He stressed the way the curriculum is delivered, which is a viral for quality education and adds, “The curriculum many times will be an excellent curriculum. Experts might have drawn a beautiful curriculum, which is going to take care of everything that is required for life but is it being delivered in a manner that it is envisaged. It brings into focus how teachers’ training is important and to understand the nuances of that and the wishful thinking will be translated into reality through action. That is where significant important things must happen and the role of every university is to train their teachers right from the induction” He added, the idealism of students can be converted into reality and students can realize and learn about universal human values and imbibe these values imparted by faculty and if they are able to do this the world will become a wonderful place.

Excerpts from Technical Sessions

Dr. Anders Karlsson, Vice President of Global Strategic Networks, Elsevier, Japan talked about the Sustainability Science in a Global landscape. Dr. Karlson said that the data suggests, “we see quite a divided world in SDG research. In most cases, the largest publishing countries would be the United States, China, and the United Kingdom. They were ranked to the top three of all SDGs.” Another trend highlighted by Dr. Karlsson was that “Across low-income countries have under 2.1% and they actually say something on the importance of partnerships for the SDGs because as we do know many consequences, for instance, climate change, are affecting many of the low-income countries.”

Prof. Angel Calderon, Principal Advisor Institutional Research and Planning, RMIT University, Australia during his technical session said, “SDG indices and impact rankings serve as a roadmap to forge a way forward and initiate a dialogue.” He added that it helps connect the dots and, “We need to keep in mind and recognize the need to contextualize what is the need and what is the surrounding ecology. We cannot expect all to participate and do as well in every single SDG and this is a critical aspect that I find fascinating about the India specific SDG index because it is tailored not so much on the national level but touches upon at the state level so institutes and higher educational institutes are able to respond to the local and regional level.”

Another pertinent point emphasized on by Mr. Calderon is that a uniform, streamlined view of what needs to be done and how it must be done must be avoided since there is no one size fits all solution and it largely depends on the context while recognizing that the SDGs can be contradictory at times. The technical session of Mr. Duncan Ross, Chief Data Officer, Times Higher Education, UK focused on the assessment of impact employing the lens of the Theory of Change, emphasizing why SDGs are important for universities and why universities play a crucial role in meeting the SDGs. The data analyzed by THE suggest that the perspectives of universities and students often differ.

Another interesting point raised was by Mr. Duncan that the data sent by Asian Universities, for instance, was different when compared to other parts of the world. Also, the emphasis was given to SDG 17, which is mandatory. Prof.Dr. Riri Fitri Sari, Chairperson UI GreenMetric World University Rankings Talked about the vision and mission of UI Green Metric. She highlighted the ranking timelines & thematic priority activities & as well as about International Workshop on UI GreenMetric scheduled for 25th August 2021.

Panel Discussion

A panel discussion with Prof. Sahasrabhudhe, Mr. Duncan Ross & Dr. Riri was initiated by Prof. Raghu Raman who asked Mr. Ross, “To Chairman sir and to me SDG 4 is most important and everything else revolves around it and you have chosen SDG 17 to be mandatory. If you can please contrast what went through your thinking process and how to reconcile these two?”

In response, Mr. Ross said, “If you look at the SDGs 1 to 15 are tackling specific things then you have 16 and 17, which are a little different. They are almost meta-SDGs because they talk about relationships; in the case of 16 they talk about the structures necessary but 17 has this focus on how organizations need to work together. So, it is about the interconnectedness of organizations for all the sustainable development goals, which led us thing thinking that 17 acts as a meta-SDG across all the other SDGs. This idea was picked up with the UI GreenMetric team as well of networking. SGD 4 is very important and interestingly for a discussion on higher education we need to remember that SDG 4’s primary focus is not on universities. SDG 4 has focus on early years and life-long learning and these are two aspects of education. I am not disagreeing with the Chairman but I think there are all kinds of things that we need to learn from the strong interlinking between every single SDG.”

Adding to the conversation, Prof. Dr. Riri Fitri Sari, Chairperson, UI GreenMetric, Indonesia, said that employing rankings with a purpose can help us achieve Agenda 2030 together. In the spirit of collaboration, Professor Riri invited universities in India to become a part of the network and requested the Chairman AICTE, Prof. Sahasrabudhe, for the Ministry’s support, to which Prof. Sahasrabudhe responded positively. This conversation between four educational leaders highlights the reason behind organizing this symposium fostering goodwill, collaboration, and deliberating on future directions of higher education institutions to create positive social impact to secure a sustainable future for all.

Day-1 Speakers

3rd August 2021

Prof. P. Venkat Rangan, Vice Chancellor, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India
Prof. Raghu Raman, Director, Amrita Center for Accreditations, Rankings & Eminence, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India.
Prof. Maneesha V. Ramesh, UNESCO Chair for Experiential Learning for Sustainable Innovation & Development, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India
Shri. Amitabh Kant, IAS, CEO, NITI Aayog, Govt. of India.
Prof. Jay Misra, Co-Director, Amrita Center for Sustainable Future, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India
Prof. T.G. Sitharam, Director & Professor, IIT Guwahati, India.
Prof. Angel Calderon, Principal Adviser, Planning & Research, RMIT University, Australia.
Prof. Sasmita Samanta, Pro-Vice Chancellor, KIIT University, India.
 Dr. Anders Karlsson, Vice President of Global Strategic Networks, Elsevier, Japan.
Prof. B. Suresh, Pro Chancellor, JSS Academy of Higher Education & Research, India.
Prof. Satheesh Kumar Bhandary, Vice Chancellor, NITTE University, India.
Prof. Jean-Christophe CARTERON, President, SULITEST, France.
Prof. Bhavani Rao R, UNESCO Chair in Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India
Prof. Karthik Sankaranarayanan, Ontario Tech University, Canada

Adjunct faculty, Amrita School for Sustainable Development, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India

Day-2 Speakers

4th August 2021

Prof. Sasangan Ramanathan, Dean, Engineering, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India.
Prof. Bipin Nair, Dean, School of Biotechnology & Faculty of Sciences, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, India
Prof. Anil D. Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, AICTE, Ministry of Education.
Dr. Riri Fitri Sari, Chairperson, UI GreenMetric, University of Indonesia.
Mr. Duncan Ross, Chief Data Officer, Times Higher Education, UK.
Ms. Laura Tucker, Founder and CEO, Vertigo Ventures, UK.
Mr. Chinmay Panigrahi, Group Product Manager, Elsevier, Netherlands.
Prof.  Madhu Chitkara, Pro-Chancellor, Chitkara University, Punjab
Mr. Waldemar Siwinski, Vice President, iREG Observatory, Poland.
Prof. Asis Kumar Chattopadhyay, Pro Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University of Calcutta. India.
Roadmap for the future emanating

The two-day International Symposium helped in laying down a roadmap for the future which focused on a national ranking system focusing on SDGs and focus on SDG based research. The other important points that emanated from the two-day discussions are:

  • In India there is a need for a national ranking system for higher education institutions, which can potentially replicate what has been achieved in the case of state governments and UT administrations through the SDG India Index.
  • Indian higher education institutions should focus on SDG based research for e.g., study on climate change could be a good area of study.
  • Institutions should recognize the need to contextualize the SDGs i.e., what is the need and what is the surrounding ecology.
  • SDG 4 & SDG 17 needs focus by HEIs in India
  • The idealism of students can be converted into reality and students can realize and learn about universal human values and imbibe these values imparted by faculty.
  • There is a need for employing rankings with a purpose.
  • The devastation brought out by COVID-19 pandemic will have far reaching ramifications on the achievement of SDGs & Universities worldwide would have to factor in the dynamics of the impact while trying to achieve SDG goals.
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