Sustainable Development

University Impact Rankings 2024: The world's top universities for delivering the Sustainable Development Goals

Environmental technology concept in blog about universities working towards Sustainable development goals. SDGs.

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Phil Baty
Chief Global Affairs Officer, Times Higher Education
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  • The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings assess universities based on their contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The Impact Rankings include rankings for each one of the UN’s 17 SDGs and an overall ranking on top, highlighting high-impact universities.
  • Here are the top global universities according to their contribution to the SDGs and their work towards making the world a better place.

What do Arizona State University in the US and the UK’s University of Manchester have in common with Nigeria’s Afe Babalola University, Indonesia’s Universitas Airlangga and South Korea’s Kyungpook National University? They have all just been named as world-leading universities in the latest global university rankings.

That’s right – the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are different to the more traditional rankings. They assess universities’ social and economic impact based on an evaluation of their contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through their research and teaching, their outreach to businesses and policy-makers, and through the stewardship of their own resources (primarily their people and estates).

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The Impact Rankings include 17 individual rankings for each one of the UN’s 17 SDGs and an overall ranking on top – and the results highlight a highly diverse, international and sometimes surprising range of high-impact universities, often outside the traditional elite names.

Universities ranked according to work towards SDGs

Arizona State University has been named as the world number one university for SDG14 (Life Below Water) thanks in part to innovative degree programmes and research in its School of Ocean Futures, as well as a pioneering coral reef restoration nursery in Hawaii.

The University of Manchester has taken the world top spot for SDG11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), while Afe Babalola is the number one in the world for SDG7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), with a great deal of credit going to its international policy leadership on energy driven partly by its Hydrogen Research Institute.

Universitas Airlangga earned the top ranking for SDG1 (Zero Poverty), which includes an assessment of research on the eradication of poverty as well as real-world support for its own students and community, while Kyungpook National University leads the world for SDG8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).

Impact Rankings 2024
Impact Rankings 2024 Image: Times Higher Education

The quintet is among a gloriously diverse group of 24 individual top-ranked universities for the 17 SDGs (with several tied in shared top positions), from 12 countries across five continents.

“In a world of exponential change, unparalleled technological advancement and persistent inequality, institutions dedicated to knowledge creation have a critical responsibility to help forge a better future,” Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow has said.

“ASU’s design and priorities demonstrate our determination to master global challenges, and the Impact Rankings serve as an important gauge of our progress — and a fuel for our aspirations.”

As well as taking the world number one position for its leadership on protecting life under water, Arizona State University also makes the world top 10 of the overall Impact Ranking – which is based on universities’ performance across their three top-performing SDGs and their compulsory submission to SDG17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

Submission of evidence on partnerships is mandatory for an overall ranking position in a conscious move to help turn this unique ranking into a tool collaboration as much as for healthy competition.

The overall world number one, for the third year in a row, is Western Sydney University in Australia, followed by the University of Manchester and Australia’s Tasmania University in joint second place, and Denmark’s Aalborg University in fourth. Overall, the top 10 includes five countries across three continents.

Top 10 overall universities
Top 10 overall universities for delivering Sustainable Development Goals. Image: Times Higher Education

Impact Rankings as an alternative view of excellence

Universities around the world are embracing the Impact Rankings as a vital framework to recognize, measure, benchmark and incentivize the work they do to make the world a better place – sometimes alongside the more traditional rankings of research prestige and sometimes as a welcome alternative view of excellence.

A record 2,152 universities from 125 countries/regions volunteered for assessment for 2024, a 26% increase on last year – and up from less than 400 who took part in the inaugural impact rankings in 2019.

As well as providing data for individual universities and offering guidance for prospective students, the rankings and the data behind them are providing a fascinating new international framework to understand the role of universities in the drive to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and a unique tool to guide policy, investment and international collaboration decisions to support university impact.


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The data highlights some insightful geopolitical trends: German universities, for example, are leading the world for SDG9 (Innovation, Industry and Infrastructure), where the rankings measure research output linked to industry partners, industry funding, patents that cite university research and university spin-out companies. Germany has five institutions sharing first place with perfect scores for this global goal.

Australia leads on SDG6 (clean water) with seven world top 10 universities. South Korea leads for SDG8 (decent work and economic growth) and the United Kingdom dominates the ranking for SDG12 (responsible consumption and production), which evaluates research in the field but also looks at universities’ own operational measures around their supply chains, their production, consumption and waste management.

The UK has a remarkable eight of the world’s top 10 places for this SDG, with King’s College London sharing the top ranking with Bournemouth University and a total of one third of the top 100 places, providing best practice case studies to the rest of the world.

“One of the virtues of the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings is its recognition of the differing missions and strengths of universities,” said THE’s Rankings Editor Ellie Bothwell, with universities able to chose which of the UN global goals or group of goals to focus on, depending on their individual priorities.

“In this way, these rankings celebrate diversity, recognizing that there is not one single definition of excellence,” she said. They provide a tool for international matchmaking, exchange and partnership with a clear recognition “that it is the collective strength of the global higher education sector that will help to build a more sustainable, collaborative and global future”.

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