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How can Higher Education Take Action Towards the Sustainable Development Goals?

Project Updates


7 Jun 2019

The 7th ASEF Rectors’ Conference was hosted by the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration (SNSPA), in Bucharest, Romania, on 12-14 May 2019. It brought together over 150 leaders of higher education institutions, experts, government officials and 51 student leaders from 51 Asian and European ASEM partner countries to discuss how can higher education take action towards the sustainable development goals.

The discussions were focusing on the following subthemes:

1. Taking Action at Home— SDGs as Core Pillars of University Governance
Discussing visions and missions of universities within the framework of the sustainable development agenda, and the ability of institutions to link knowledge, research, education to contribute to the SDGs. The importance of cherishing values (like academic freedom, autonomy, participation) and ways of balancing it with the more “technical” or “utilitarian” tasks and demands (like employability, skills for the labour market) was also discussed in the sessions.

2. Taking Action at Community Level— SDGs as Drivers of University Social Impact
Reviewing the different approaches how higher education actors (universities, students, regional networks) can play together to realise the SDGs, engage local communities and civil society in providing sustainable research and teaching, how can they translate the global goals into local actions, and what is the added value that SDGs can provide in these partnerships.

3. Taking Action at International Level — SDGs as a Catalyst to Reorient Internationalisation
Exploring what kind of international partnerships do universities engage in, what is the shared purpose of these, and how do they contribute to the SDGs? Participants have also discussed how persons and ideas flow across borders, and how to generate dynamics among different systems and silos of research and education for the sake of the SDGs.
ARC7 resulted in 2 sets of Policy Recommendation, representing the perspectives of universities as well as students.

ARC7 Students’ Forum Policy Recommendations 

The 51 student leaders from the 51 ASEM partner countries were discussing, debating and shaping the ARC7 Students’ Policy Recommendations (PRs) for 3 days. According to their reflections (watch the first overARCing Idea video), it was challenging to find a shared point of view of challenges and find expressions and language which was acceptable for all representatives from 51 counties across Asia and Europe. Their discussions were comprehensive and inclusive, and their final PRs emerged from deliberate and thoughtful conversations. The students stressed the urgency of “university governance adopting a lens of efficiency and action” and called upon the ASEM Governments to take action on 3 major fields. They have concluded that “It is of the utmost importance that SDGs are present in governance conversations, lecture halls, and student gatherings”. Read the ARC7 Students’ Policy Recommendations here.

ARC7 Rectors’ Conference Policy Recommendations 

Over 150 university leaders, experts and policy makers discussed the ARC7 Rectors’ Policy Recommendations. The Conference resulted in Commitments by higher education institutions (HEIs) from both regions, and also proposed Policy Recommendations to feed into the deliberations and outcomes of the 7th ASEM Education Ministers Meeting (ASEM ME7). The policy recommendations were proposed and reviewed by the ARC7 organising partners – European University Association (EUA), International Association of Universities (IAU), ASEAN University Network (AUN) – discussed and finalised by the ARC7 Rectors’ Conference participants.

The participants recommended the ASEM Ministers of Education to “include the SDGs into the goals, priorities and activities of the ASEM Education Process (AEP).” “Using the framework of the SDGs provides an opportunity to relate national priorities and interests to the wider context of a global environment and a global realm of knowledge and research. It enables Asian and European governments and higher education institutions to develop stronger education and research partnerships to generate a better future for all.”

Other recommendations were concerned with support for higher education institutions to engage with the Agenda 2030; Incentives and support for education and research collaboration among universities and with other societal actors, at national and international levels; Developing research and knowledge-based policy agendas and informed decision-making in democratic societies; Acknowledging and supporting the role of higher education in contributing to equity, inclusion and lifelong learning; Supporting higher education internationalisation in line with the goals of the Agenda 2030. Read the ARC7 Rectors’ Policy Recommendations here.

7th ASEM Education Ministers’ Meeting (ASEMME7)

The 7th ASEM Education Ministers’ Meeting (ASEMME7) took place on 15-16 May 2019 in Bucharest, Romania. The representatives of the 53 ASEM partners discussed the theme “Connecting Education: Inclusion, Mobility & Excellence in Support of the Sustainable Development Goals”. Ministers welcomed the students and rectors’ policy recommendations and adopted them as an Annex of the ASEM ME7 Chair’s Conclusions. MInisters commented on several aspects of the recommendations, Hon Evarist Bartolo, Minister for Education and Employment Vice Minister of Malta especially highlighted the importance of a wide interpretation of inclusion, and mentioned the recommendation of the students “aspects including race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic background, and access needs shall be considered.”

Find out more by visiting the ARC7 microsite! 

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