Universities have a pivotal role to play in finding solutions to pressing environmental and social questions. The latest ranking by the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) agency places the North-West University (NWU) among the top global and local universities when it comes to environmental and social sustainability.

QS ranked the NWU in the overall 281 to 300 categories out of 700 of the best global institutions from 71 locations. The NWU is placed among the top seven South African universities in both the social and environmental impact categories of the ranking.

This is the first year that QS has compared universities using environmental and social sustainability measurement indicators. They published the rankings on 26 October.

According to QS, only universities that complied with a minimum level of research connected to sustainability and that have a clear published strategy on climate action were eligible for this ranking. It considers universities’ research impact and their delivery of graduates who will work in sustainability careers.

Lenses identify strongest performances

Both the environmental impact and social impact categories employ various performance lenses in calculating the final scores.

The NWU’s strongest environmental impact lens is sustainable institutions (it assesses the institution’s operations and commitment to sustainability), with a score of 261. The strongest social impact lens is knowledge exchange (how institutions partner in research and with industry to share knowledge and spur educational growth), where the NWU is in the 146th position globally.

The environmental impact lens includes sustainable education (education to understand and make a difference to the environment), sustainable institutions and sustainable research.

The social impact lens covers employment and opportunities, climate of equality, life quality (universities’ impact on research into areas that affect the health and well-being of humans as well as those of other creatures), the impact of education, and knowledge exchange.

Committed to sustainable existence

According to QS, the sustainability ranking shows students which institutions are demonstrating a commitment to a more sustainable existence.

They say it is more than just about the commitment, it also looks for outward evidence of this – from the impact that alumni are making in science and technology to solve climate issues, to the impact of research being done across the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals*.

QS evaluates the social and environmental impact of universities as centres of education and research and as major employers with the operational sustainability challenges of any large and complex organisation.

Dr Bismark Tyobeka, principal and vice-chancellor of the NWU, says the latest rankings offers valuable insights into how the university is performing in relation to its global counterparts when it comes to sustainability.

“It highlights our strong points but also gives indications of the areas we as a university community can focus on as we work towards the targets set by the United Nations’ Sustainability Goals.”

*The United Nations’ 17 Sustainability Goals are: No Poverty; Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequalities; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Life Below Water; Life on Land; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions; and Partnerships for the Goals.

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