The Role of Higher Education Institutions in Achieving the SDGs: a national workshop in Syria

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Universities,  colleges,  and  other  higher  education  institutions  (HEIs)  play  a  critical  role  in  the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Agenda. HEIs are mentioned specifically under SDG 4 on quality and inclusive education, but in fact their influence extends across all the goals through teaching and learning, research output, and campus initiatives. HEIs facilitate social, environmental, and economic development. They are one of the most significant incubators of ideas   and   solutions   to   global   problems,   and   their   central   position   amongst   networks   of government, civil society and industry partners mean that they have vast potential to generate positive impact.

Since  the  international  community  of  Member  States  came  together  to  agree  upon  the  2030 Agenda,  some  HEIs  have  established  campus  greening  initiatives  to  improve  their  internal sustainability, while others have implemented community outreach programmes, student groups, and  research  and  innovation  hubs.  However,  in  the  Arab  region,  progress  has  been  slow.  For example,  across  the  Region,  the  International  Association  of  Universities  (IAU)  lists  just  some actions undertaken by universities related to the SDGS.

Against this backdrop, and following the request of Syria’ Ministry of Education and Higher Education, UNESCO Beirut in partnership with Damascus University organized on 5-6 February 2020 a national workshop on “The Role of Higher Education Institutions in Achieving the SDGs”, in Damascus. The workshop is the third in a series of workshops that UNESCO Beirut has organized on the same topic (the first two took place in Doha and Ramallah).

The event was attended by UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for Higher Education Dr Anasse Bouhlal, and a number of university deans and rectors.

During his presentation on SDGs and Higher Education, Dr. Anasse Bouhlal suggested actions on how universities can further support SDGs, including the development of monitoring tools to assess their progress towards meeting the SDGs. Dr. Bouhlal further acknowledged the equal access of men and women to universities, but encouraged the universities to better advance gender equality by not only focusing on access, but also on leadership opportunities and equal remuneration.

During the event, Dr. Anasse Bouhlal introduced university representatives to the process of building UNESCO Chairs at universities.

The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss a concrete plan of action that can serve as a catalyst for universities in Syria to support the achievement of SDGs. The universities agreed to work collaboratively in achieving SDGs, more particularly SDG4, and to ensure alignment between the SDGs and their own strategies.  Participants also agreed to share the knowledge their acquired with all staff in their university to build their awareness on SDGs. Lastly, participants expressed their willingness to incorporate the SDGs in university curricula, as well as to encourage PhD candidates to write their thesis and do research on themes related to SDGs.

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