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New Social Compact

Higher Education for Sustainable Development

Alina Toporas



2015 marked the outset of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which, alongside ‘Agenda 2030’ agreed on by the UN General Assembly, put the issue of sustainable development on the map. Nevertheless, not all subject areas have been equally impacted by the introduction of the concept of sustainability and by its adjacent endorsement. The Higher Education sector, for instance, has only recently started associating itself with the matter through the recognition of the issue of sustainability. In this sense, more than 600 universities worldwide have triggered the process of signing a plethora of international declarations such as the Talloires Declaration, the Halifax Declaration, the Bologna Charter and the Copernicus Charter for Sustainable Development. The sum of all of these statements of commitment were crowned by the development of the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) just before the Rio+20 Conference.

What is HESI?

HESI has been used by higher education institutions as a platform to share their deepest concerns and latest implementation practices concerning the principle of sustainability. Noteworthy torchbearing stakeholders such as policymakers, scientists and, indubitably, the academia have used HESI as a medium through which they can accomplish their four major objectives, namely:

  • Teach sustainable development across all disciplines of study;
  • Encourage research and dissemination of sustainable development knowledge;
  • Support the creation of green campuses and local sustainability efforts;
  • Engage and share information with international networks.

Sustainability Partnerships

Promoting sustainability in higher education has not been an easy feat. Two years after the release of the SDG agenda, while most sectors have already incorporated the sustainability principles promoted within the document, collaborators with a vested interest in advocating for sustainability as a panacea meant to overhaul higher education finally came to their senses and placed themselves in a 12-step programme of aligning this sector with the UNSDG agenda. The first step they identified in the process of recovery is admitting they had a problem manifesting itself in the form of a pack in partnerships to support their sustainability initiatives.

This led HESI to be co-chaired by UN Global Compact’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Division for Sustainable Development (UNDESA-DSD) which alongside UNESCO, United Nations Environment, UN-Habitat, UNCTAD and United Nations University, managed to organise an event on the extent to which the SDGs can be integrated into the sustainability practices of higher education institutions. This event became the central focus of the 2017 session of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and managed to address the intricacies of campus practices, pedagogy, teaching and research routines used to position the higher education sector as the lynchpin where under sustainability objectives in education could be met.

This event managed to look under the bonnet of the less obvious work conducted by universities all around the world and identified best practices coming from the movers and shakers of the education purview. Noteworthy examples are constituted by the Business School of Lausanne that works towards developing GAPFRAME – a “safe space for all of us” which serves as a basis for multi-stakeholders to address Grand Challenges, by sector, across industries, for an enterprise or as a responsible management educator, building on the “outside-in” perspective of true business sustainability. Likewise, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has managed to fabricate from the ground up a all-encompassing MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS) aimed at utilizing the campus as a testbed and incubator in order to identify ways of responding to today’s sustainability conundrums.

Notwithstanding the amazing progress in promoting sustainability for the higher education sector, many devil’s advocates still chide against these initiatives because of their unrealistic expectations. In Kerry Shepard’s book Higher Education for Sustainable Development, all of these enterprises will never display that much power as to change a student’s sustainable or, for that matter, non-sustainable behaviour. This has nothing to do with the crux of the sustainability ventures themselves, but with the reluctance of faculty members to change their archaic views regarding their teaching practices by stepping away from teaching knowledge to teaching values. The argument does not presume that professors do not understand the importance of sustainability, but more that they do not want to take it upon themselves to change students’ deep-rooted perspectives and manners of conducting themselves.

To take stock of the HESI initiatives while incorporating the feedback coming from sustainable education scholars who have written extensively on the matter, we must acknowledge the great strides made within the course of merely one year since the 2017 session of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and desist from focusing on affective learning, but stick to cognitive learning by developing critical thinking skills. In Shephard’s words, this type of skillset will make students:

discern for themselves the hidden messages within the teaching that they experience in higher education.… They will be able to see the absurdity of teachers who claim to be aloof from concerns about sustainability and yet continue to teach traditional business studies, social sciences, or to some degree, physics, as if the knowledge within these disciplines was in some ways values-free and independent from the human world around them. (p. 37)

Alina Toporas is a recent Master of Science graduate in Global Crime, Justice and Security at the University of Edinburgh Law School. She has previously worked for the European Commission Representation in Scotland, the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA), the Romanian Embassy in Croatia and Hagar International (the Vietnamese branch). She is currently serving as a Communications Assistant of the British Embassy in Romania. Her research interests are mainly targeted at the EU-UK cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) post-Brexit. Alina is also the author of various pieces on transnational crimes (namely, human trafficking and illicit trade) with a geographical focus on South-East Asia.

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New Social Compact

Seven Out of 10 Top School Systems Are in East Asia Pacific

MD Staff



The East Asia and Pacific region has seven of the top ten performing education systems in the world, with schools in China and Vietnam showing significant progress, according to a new World Bank report released today. This is a major accomplishment that offers important lessons to countries around the world. In the rest of the region, however, up to 60 percent of students are in under-performing schools that fail to equip them with the skills necessary for success.

Growing Smarter: Learning and Equitable Development in East Asia and the Pacific argues that improving education is necessary to sustain economic growth and highlights the ways that countries in the region have been able to improve learning outcomes. Drawing on lessons from successful education systems in the region, it lays out a series of practical recommendations for key policies that promote learning so that students acquire foundational skills in reading and math, as well as more complex skills that are needed to meet future labor market demands.

Providing a high-quality education to all children, regardless of where they are born, isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the foundation of a strong economy and the best way to stop and reverse rising inequalities,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific.

A quarter of the world’s school-age children – some 331 million – live in East Asia and the Pacific. Up to 40 percent of them attend school in education systems whose students are ahead of the average students in OECD countries. These schools are not only in wealthy countries such as Singapore, Korea and Japan, but also in middle-income countries such as China and Vietnam. And, as the report highlights, student performance isn’t necessarily tied to a country’s income level. By age 10, for example, the average Vietnamese student outperforms all but the top students in India, Peru and Ethiopia.

But many countries in the region are not getting the results they want. In Indonesia, for example, test scores showed students were more than three years behind their top-performing peers in the region. In countries such as Cambodia and Timor-Leste, one-third or more of second graders were unable to read a single word on reading tests.

Another key finding of the report is that across the region, household incomes do not necessarily determine children’s educational success. In Vietnam and China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces), for example, students from poorer households do as well, if not better, in both math and science, as compared to average students in the OECD.

Effective policies for the selection, motivation, and support of teachers as well as sound practices in the classroom are what determine how much students learn. For policymakers looking to improve their school systems, allocating existing budgets efficiently, coupled with strong political commitment, can make a real difference in the lives of children across the region,” said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Education.

The report lays out concrete steps for improving learning for lagging systems in the region and beyond, starting with ensuring that institutions are aligned so that objectives and responsibilities across the education system are consistent with each other. The report also urges a focus on four key areas: effective and equity-minded public spending; preparation of students for learning; selection and support of teachers; and systematic use of assessments to inform instruction.

The report found that top-performing systems spend efficiently on school infrastructure and teachers, have recruitment processes to ensure the best candidates are attracted into teaching, and provide a salary structure that rewards teachers with proven classroom performance. It also found that schools throughout the region increased preschool access, including for the poor, and have adopted student learning assessment into their educational policies.

The report complements and builds on the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, which was released in September 2017 and found that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.

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New Social Compact

UN women’s commission opens annual session at ‘pivotal moment’ for gender equality movement

MD Staff



Secretary-General António Guterres (left) and Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN and Chair of the sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), at the opening of the session. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Taking place at “a pivotal moment for the rights of women and girls,” the United Nations body dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment opened its annual session on Monday hearing calls to help women, especially those in rural communities, secure an end to the male-dominated power dynamic that has long marginalized their participation and muted their voices.

“Across the world, women are telling their stories and provoking important and necessary conversations – in villages and cities; in boardrooms and bedrooms; in the streets and in the corridors of power,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, opening the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62).

“From ‘MeToo’ to ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘The Time is Now’ […] women and girls are calling out abusive behaviour and discriminatory attitudes,” he added.

Under the Commission’s theme ‘Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls,’ the UN chief observed that although a marginalized group, they were often the backbone of their families and communities, managing land and resources.

Mr. Guterres said that supporting these women is essential to fulfilling our global pledge to eradicate poverty and to create a safer, more sustainable world on a healthy planet – 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mr. Guterres painted a picture of a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture in which centuries of patriarchy and discrimination have left a damaging legacy.

Calling it “the greatest human rights challenge of our time,” he said “progress for women and girls means changing the unequal power dynamics that underpin discrimination and violence.”

“Discrimination against women damages communities, organizations, companies, economies and societies,” he continued. “That is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality. And that is why I consider myself a proud feminist.”

The President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Marie Chatardova pointed to the Commission, as a critical instrument to strengthen the global normative framework for women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender equality.

The body is also as a key driver of ECOSOC’s work, with the Commission’s outcomes as bolstering the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and that of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to end poverty and ensure prosperity for all on a healthy planet.

Noting that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is a theme that cuts across all the Goals, Ms. Chatardova said the Commission’s focus on rural women and girls was both timely and well-aligned with the 2030 Agenda.

According to the ECOSOC President, inclusion is a key element in all efforts.

Noting that the Commission has long provided a roadmap for the UN’s work in women’s empowerment and gender equality, she announced a special Council session in May to build sustainable, inclusive and resilient societies.

Gender perspective is critical

For his part, the President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, noted that past challenges were approached without a gender perspective, which “has had a particularly damaging effect on rural women.”

Mr. Lajčák underscored that this needs to stop, and that women must be taken into account in all actions, from access to water to closing pay gaps.

Drawing attention to rural women as a major source of innovation, he explained that their empowerment would benefit everyone.

“These kinds of women do not need our help, in finding solutions,” he stated. “What they need is our support, in turning their ideas into reality.”

Calling gender equality “an urgent priority,” Mr. Lajčák he encouraged the Commission to carry on with its important work “until every woman, sitting in this room today has the same rights, and the same opportunities, as the man sitting beside her.’

“Thank you for continuing your calls. Let’s make them stronger than ever,” he concluded.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka highlighted the importance of this year’s focus on rurual women.

“It speaks to our commitment to fight some of the biggest challenges of our time: poverty, inequality, intersectionality and an end to violence and discrimination against women and girls, no matter where they live, or how they live, so that we ‘leave no one behind,’” she stated.

Calling it “a tipping point moment,” the UN Women chief urged the forum to seize the opportunity to secure and accelerate progress, build consensus and share best practices to serve “the poorest of the poor.”

“It has never been so urgent to hold leaders accountable for their promises for accelerating progress” on the SDGs, she said.  An unprecedented hunger for change in women’s lives was being seen around the world, as well as a growing recognition that when women banded together, “they can make demands that bite.”

“Women are fighting to take steps that change their lives, and they are refusing to accept the practices that have normalized gender inequality, sexual misconduct, exclusion and discrimination across all walks of life,” she argued.

She urged everyone to unite around the common cause, as set out in the principles of equality in the UN Charter, “to make this a moment of real acceleration, change and accountability.”

The chair, Geraldine Byrne Nason, said the current session is a key moment on the path to ending discrimination against women and girls once and for all.  Indeed, “time is up” on women taking second place around the world, she said, challenging the Commission to do more and do better.

CSW functions under ECOSOC, acting as the UN organ promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.  CSW62 runs until 23 March.

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New Social Compact

UNESCO Rewards Outstanding Teacher Initiatives in Chile, Indonesia and the UK

MD Staff



Three programmes designed to empower teachers have been named as winners of the 2017-2018 UNESCO-Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize: The Center for Mathematic Modeling of the University of Chile, the Diklat Berjenjang project of Indonesia and the Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training Programme of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Prize for Outstanding Practice and Performance in Enhancing the Effectiveness of Teachers will be awarded on 5 October as part of World Teachers’ Day celebrations at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris when the each winner will receive $100,000.

The Center for Mathematic Modeling of the University of Chile (Chile) is rewarded for its Suma y Sigue: Matemática en línea (Adding it up: Mathematics online) programme which was developed to address the performance gaps in mathematics between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and improve the quality of maths teaching in general. It is a ‘learning by doing’ programme organized by grade levels and curricula, enabling teachers to focus on their specialized area of mathematics teaching. It blends face-to-face sessions with intensive virtual instruction. The programme is scaleable, easily accessed by teachers in remote areas, and it promotes inclusion.

The Diklat Berjenjang project from Indonesia is rewarded for bringing quality professional development to early childhood teachers, notably in the poorest and most remote areas. It helps meet Indonesia’s need for teachers skilled in creating stimulating learning environments for young learners. It helps identify potential teacher trainers and provides step-by-step written guides, follow-up assignments and exchanges.

The Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training Programme from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was selected for its highly innovative and impactful approach to training teachers in various professional environments in Ghana. It promotes child-centred and play-based pedagogy in early education to replace traditional talk chalk disciplinarian methods. Practicing teachers receive a two-year training, combining workshops with smaller peer group meetings in which they are paired on the basis of their complementary strengths to engage in classroom observations and in class coaching.

The three winners were selected from 150 nominations submitted by the Governments of UNESCO’s Member States and UNESCO partner organizations on the recommendation of an International Jury of education professionals.

Established in 2009 with funding from Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum of Dubai, the Prize is awarded every two years to projects that have made outstanding contributions to improving the quality of teaching and learning, especially in developing countries or within marginalized or disadvantaged communities.

More information on the prize:

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