Higher Education and the SDGs

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are on a unique position to be at the forefront of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promotion and serve as a benchmark for other sectors of the economy. HEIs can also contribute to the discussions on the SDGs in society at large. 

At UNESCO IESALC, we are convinced of the enormous transformative potential that HEIs can have in the future of our planet. This research line aims to provide clear, factual and actionable information, that inspires HEIs to take action and governments to support them.

Higher Education and SDG5: Gender Equality

HEIs can be a key contributor to society’s progress towards gender equality (SDG 5). For example, HEIs’ teaching and learning helps female social mobility, their research helps identifying gender equality gaps in society, their reasons and consequences. HEIs also fight against sexual violence, abuse and harassment within their campuses with proactive policies and resources. UNESCO IESALC has developed several reports providing an overview of the state of gender equality in higher education worldwide case studies and good practices at institutional and national policymaking level, as well as a targeted analysis in East Africa.  

Higher Education and SDG11: Sustainable cities and communities

HEIs can have a direct impact on sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11) in many different ways. From the integration of the campus into the urban environment and its open spaces, their housing, transportation, cultural, security, sustainability and infrastructure policies, to the integration of local and regional contexts into their research (e.g. to solve local urban problems) and their curricula (e.g. experiential learning). UNESCO IESALC is currently working in partnership with the Times of Higher Education on a report (expected launch in December 2022), that will identify key dynamics and possible good practices in SDG11.


  • Inspire and support higher education institutions across the globe to further promote the SDGs within their capabilities 
  • Identify gaps and good practices in the national and, mainly, institutional level, related to HEIs´ contribution to the SDGs 
  • Guide governments to more effectively support HEIs actions that contribute to SDGs 

Main outputs

Several reports on HE’s contribution to one or a group of SDGs

A playbook for HEI’s contribution to SDGs

A platform of good practice case studies



Universities in South Africa create a workshop on nutrition, environmental conservation, and gardening.


Universities in China partner with private companies to research and develop technologies to reduce CO2 emissions


Universities in Turkey offer scholarships and adapted their admissions to increase access of Syrian refugees, especially women



Universities across Latin America partner with international organizations to study migration trends and challenges faced by refugees

previous arrow
next arrow