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.