Author(s): Maia Chankseliani 1 , Tristan McCowan 2
(1) grid.4991.5, 0000 0004 1936 8948, Department of Education 15 Norham Gardens, University of Oxford, , Oxford, England
(2) grid.83440.3b, 0000000121901201, UCL Institute of Education, University College London, , 20 Bedford Way, London, UK
This special issue of Higher Education focuses on higher education and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015 cover a broad range of issues related to socio-economic, environmental and technological development, and apply to all of the world's countries, and not only those normally considered to be 'developing' or 'emerging'. As part of its broad remit, the SDGs expanded the focus beyond primary and secondary education to include tertiary education. This was an important move as higher education was missing from the international development agenda as evidenced by previous sets of development goals-the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All.
One of these goals-SDG 4-calls for equal access to tertiary education, including university, as part of the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all. Yet, universities have another important role in the SDGs, as a driver for the achievement of the full set of goals, through their role in human formation, knowledge production and innovation. This special issue builds on the existing scarce literature (Aarts et al. 2020; Castells 1994; McCowan 2016, 2019; Milton & Barakat 2016; Neave et al. 2000; Owens 2017; Schendel & McCowan 2015) to examine this latter, and less commonly discussed, role of higher education in addressing the SDGs.
University as an institution has a long history, starting as an educational establishment, later assuming the knowledge creating (research) function and more recently the so-called third mission (engagement). In most contexts, universities were for the elites, educating them for religious, professional or administrative occupations. With the expansion of higher education participation, university has acquired a larger potential for contributing to societal development. Teachers, doctors, engineers, among other professionals, obtain academic education at a higher level to practice their professions and support societies. Furthermore, universities undertake fundamental and applied research in sciences and humanities to improve our understanding of life.
There exist diverse exemplars of universities' innovative engagement with the global challenges, such as the University of Pretoria's (South Africa) strategy to use research for addressing societal problems across the continent, with a focus on food security. Another example is the Ahfad University for Women (Sudan) which provides a holistic experience through academic courses, research, on-the-job training and community extension activities to support women as change agents and future leaders. These universities, together with 15 others, have been designated as SDG Hubs for their commitment to addressing SDGs and educating future generations about the biggest global challenges (United Nations 2018). The creation of the SDG Hubs within higher education institutions is an indication of the timeliness of strengthening our empirical and conceptual understanding of how SDGs can be achieved through higher education. Another confirmation is a recent attempt to measure universities' success in delivering the UN Sustainable...