Aligning higher education with the United Nations SDGs

Aligning higher education with the United Nations SDGs

Aligning higher education with the United Nations SDGs


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), comprising 17 goals with 169 targets, represent a global commitment to addressing poverty, inequality, and environmental challenges by 2030. The SDGs demand urgent action from all nations, regardless of their economic status, to enhance living standards, education, and economic growth while reducing disparities.


GS-03 (Indian Economy)

Mains Question:

  • Examine the role of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in India’s pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How does higher education, as emphasized in NEP 2020, contribute to achieving multiple SDGs? (250 words)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Slow Progress and Global Challenges
  • NEP 2020 and its Alignment with SDGs
  • Higher Education’s Role in SDGs
  • The Research-Teaching Nexus
  • Innovation and Collaboration
  • Accelerating Progress
  • Universities as Catalysts for Change
  • Integration with Socio-economic Development

Slow Progress and Global Challenges:

  • The SDGs, introduced eight years ago, face a daunting landscape marked by sluggish progress exacerbated by the prolonged impact of COVID-19, the climate crisis, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and global economic fragility.
  • While this challenge is universal, it disproportionately affects the Least Developed Countries, including India, despite the nation’s relative success in managing crises.

NEP 2020 and its Alignment with SDGs:

  • India’s commitment to SDGs is evident in recent actions and policies, with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 playing a pivotal role. NEP 2020 aligns with many SDGs, notably SDG4, which pertains to quality education, considered a cornerstone for achieving other goals.
  • India’s historic commitment to equitable and inclusive education finds resonance in the policy’s efforts to drive SDG attainment through comprehensive reforms.

Higher Education’s Role in SDGs:

  • Higher education, a catalyst for social mobility and empowerment, merits particular attention within NEP 2020. Data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) underscores the employability and income advantages of higher education.
  • A university-based education supports multiple SDGs by reducing poverty, hunger, promoting health, gender equality, economic growth, and reducing inequalities.

The Research-Teaching Nexus:

  • Universities must strengthen the research-teaching nexus, enabling students to benefit directly from research-generated knowledge.
  • Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary education fosters versatile individuals capable of addressing global challenges such as clean energy, sustainable communities, climate change, and biodiversity conservation.

Innovation and Collaboration:

  • Sustainable development necessitates transformative shifts in production and consumption patterns. Innovations and start-ups should collaborate with the private sector to address global challenges.
  • Value-Based Education (VBE) instills responsibility toward self, society, and the planet, aligning with SDG15 (Life on Land).

Accelerating Progress:

  • While ranking universities based on SDG achievement is commendable, more comprehensive efforts are required to meet the SDG deadline.
  • Higher education stakeholders should undergo orientation to ensure all activities align with SDGs. Collaboration among India’s numerous higher education institutions is vital.

Universities as Catalysts for Change:

  • Universities should reinvigorate their roles in local communities, contributing to community health, energy conservation, resource efficiency, skill development, and infrastructure sharing.
  • Sustainability should permeate institutional strategies, encompassing daily administration, teaching, and research.

Integration with Socio-economic Development:

  • Higher education must integrate with socio-economic development, ensuring that each activity and transaction positively impacts SDGs.
  • Universities should be perceived as direct contributors to individual well-being and national progress.

Way Forward:

  • Universities should adopt sustainability as a core principle, integrating SDGs into institutional strategies, daily operations, and research endeavors.
  • Stakeholders should collaborate to ensure that no SDG is left unattended within the higher education sector.
  • Universities must actively engage with local communities, fostering culture shifts towards health, resource efficiency, and collaboration.


The SDGs represent a global call to action, and India, through initiatives like NEP 2020 and its emphasis on higher education, demonstrates its commitment to these goals. To meet the challenges posed by a slow SDG progress and global uncertainties, universities must align their activities with SDGs, become engines of socio-economic development, and empower individuals to contribute meaningfully to their well-being and nation-building.