The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted at the 2015 United Nations Summit. Interest in the SDGs is increasing rapidly both in Japan and overseas as issues and objectives for all countries in the world, including developed countries. By focusing on universities as centers for creating knowledge and examining research activities by researchers of Chuo University, this special feature explores the role which must be fulfilled by universities in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
This installment is written by Professor Toshikazu Kato (Faculty of Science and Engineering), Director of the Research Promotion Office at Chuo University. Professor Kato examines the feature theme of the role of universities in achieving SDGs while introducing examples of overseas initiatives.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are action goals aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet, and enabling everyone –leaving no one behind-- to enjoy peace and wealth. The 17 goals (Figure 1) and 169 targets (specific issues) have been set as requirements for human beings to continue living on the earth (United Nations General Assembly, September 2015). The SDGs are universal goals for both developing nations and advanced nations. As such, Japan is actively working on the SDGs.
Chuo University is a founding member of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). This framework aims to form partnerships between the world’s institutions of higher education and the UN, and to provide mechanisms through which educational institutions can commit to the tasks and activities entrusted to the UN. Since 2010, Chuo University has served as a hub of information dissemination and information exchange in Japan. Consequently, I developed an interest in the process of formulating the SDGs. I have been cooperating in public relations activities for the formulated SDGs and have been working to incorporate the purpose of the SDGs into university initiatives.
In this article, I will discuss the essential roles of universities towards SDGs, while also introducing my experiences in working with SDGs.
Working to achieve SDGs is an important mission of universities that fulfill a role in creating a new future. Moreover, for university officials, it is still fresh in our minds how SDGs initiatives are included as evaluation criteria in the World University Rankings (Times Higher Education, THE). We have now gone beyond understanding of SDGs as a set of principles and liberal arts. Currently, implementation of SDGs is a standard for university evaluation and competitive rankings which are intrinsically linked to the survival (sustainability) of a university. All research, educational, and business initiatives of a university are subject to evaluation.
In some ways, it seems like university officials throughout the world are too easily swayed by rankings. However, I view the introduction of such criteria as a positive element. From an even broader perspective, I intend to review the research, educational, and business initiatives of universities and to achieve new forms of social contribution through actions for SDGs.
Conversely, we must also remember that SDGs alone are not sufficient when considering our future. Indeed, respect and guarantee of basic human rights are important viewpoints which are not clearly stated in the SDGs.
Chuo University began as the Igirisu Horitsu Gakko (English Law School), an institution where students study equality under the law. Today, the social mission of our university is to implement SDGs initiatives for ensuring the continued growth of mankind while protecting the global environment, and to implement basic human rights initiatives for enabling each person to play an active role in society according to their unique characteristics.