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, and 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 and a policy brief on women in academia.

Higher Education and SDG11: Sustainable cities and communities

HEIs directly impact their local communities in different ways, ranging from the campus integration into the urban environment and its open spaces, through their policies on housing, transportation, culture, security, sustainability and infrastructure, to the integration of local

contexts into their teaching and research. The joint 2023 UNESCO IESALC and Times of Higher Education report, ‘The contribution of higher education institutions to sustainable cities and communities’, addresses these questions, including good practices and trends from all world regions, as well as recommendations for higher education leaders and policymakers.

SDG 8: Decent work within higher education institutions To fulfill their missions within a competitive labor market, HEIs must offer attractive employment conditions, from job security to work-life balance. However, HEIs’ workers often find themselves in precarious working conditions, without clear paths for career stability. The conditions of early-career researchers, interns, and the externalized workers are of particular concern. The SDG brief ‘Higher education institutions as employers: ensuring decent working conditions’ (2024) addresses these issues, offering examples of good practices and recommendations for policymakers and HE leaders

Upcoming SDG briefs in 2024

  • SDG 16: Transparency and anti-corruption measures in higher education institutions.
  • SDG 16: The contribution of higher education institutions to democratization in society.
  • SDG 17: Knowledge transfer from universities to governments. Harnessing academic expertise for better policymaking.
  • SDG 17 and SDG 9: Collaboration opportunities between higher education institutions and industry.

Collaborations Opportunities

Are you a well-established researcher / expert on one of the areas in which higher education contributes to an SDG? Interested in a working together for a joint SDG brief? Send us an email with a proposal.


  • 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

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