New rankings fix universities at centre of sustainability

The University of California, Berkeley has been named the global leader in sustainability, according to a new higher education ranking classification which attempts to provide a framework to show universities’ progress in tackling some of the world’s greatest environmental and social challenges.

The QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2023 rankings were inaugurated on 26 October by QS Quacquarelli Symonds, one of the world’s largest provider of insights into the global higher education sector, mainly through ranking of universities and other educational services. Its new index is based on environmental and social impact challenges, with each of the two main categories drawing 50% of the weighted points.

The University of California, Berkeley achieved top scores in both the environmental impact and social impact categories, while two Canadian universities, the University of Toronto and University of British Columbia, were in second and third positions respectively.

The University of Edinburgh took fourth position while two Australian institutions, the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney, tied in fifth position. Other universities that made it into the top 10 included the University of Tokyo in Japan, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale in the United States, and the University of Auckland in New Zealand, in that order.

Europe was represented by 292 universities, or about 42% of the ranked universities globally. The University of Edinburgh, in fourth position globally, was at the top of the European cohort followed by two Swedish universities, Uppsala University and Lund University. The latter two universities were in 11th and 12th positions globally and were joined by Aarhus University of Denmark in the 15th position as the EU’s top three universities.

According to Leigh Kamolins, director of analytics and evaluation at QS, the environmental impact metric has three performance indicators: institutions, education and research. Sustainable education draws 20% of the weighted points, while the sustainable institutions indicator is weighted at 17.5% and sustainable research at 12.5%.

The social impact metric has five indicators: equality, knowledge exchange, impact on education, employability and opportunities, as well as quality of life. Equality was accorded 15% of the total weighted points, while knowledge exchange, impact on education and employability and opportunities indicators were each weighted at 10%, and quality of life at 5%.

The eight performance lenses are also broken down into about 40 concerns regarding environmental and social impacts and each of them is allocated some weighted points. Some of the pinpointed concerns are areas such as institutional academic reputation, employment outcomes, academic freedom and peer-reviewed research into specific UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Other weighted concerns reflected on diversity issues such as gender pay gaps, women in the workforce and ratio of women in university leadership. Also taken into account were concerns related to university governance, employer reputation and air quality index.

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