How Universities can join forces to tackle global challenges

6 October 2023
Focus on addressing Sustainable Development Goals
Sydney Summit III asked what is the most effective way for universities to work together to create real-world impact through their diverse research and expertise.

Higher education leaders and renowned experts recently gathered for two days at Sydney Summit III to discuss how universities could tackle the global challenges of our age, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The SDGs were established by the United Nations in 2015 as an urgent call to action by all countries to address global issues such as poverty and inequality, food security, climate change, and environmental decline.

Recently, an independent group of scientists, including from the University of Sydney, appointed by the United Nations' Secretary General, António Guterres, found that the world is falling behind on achieving its SDGs, and that urgent action is needed to turn the tide.  

The focus of Sydney Summit III, held during the University hosting the THE World Academic Summit 2023, was on institutions acting together using the collective power of global partnerships to drive meaningful change. 

Unlocking the power of partnerships 

From tackling heart health and mental health, to finding innovative ways to reduce global fossil fuel use, the Summit placed the spotlight on examples of international research partnerships that focused on addressing SDGs such as Good Health and Well-being and Affordable and Clean Energy.

Research-rich universities are well placed to create successful SDG projects and questions explored included how to set realistic targets and criteria to measure success.  

It was acknowledged that essential to universities tackling the ambitious goals of the SDGs is collaboration and coordination with and among stakeholders such as governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals.

A common theme among speakers was how the true catalyst behind successful SDG projects was the willingness to establish global connections and think outside academic silos. 

The collaboration will address how do we tackle these really big problems together, let’s think blue sky, and how to include other collaborators.
Professor Sharon Naismith

Rachel Sandison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (External Engagement), University of Glasgow:

“The partnership between the University of Glasgow’s College of Medical, Veterinary, and Life Sciences and the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre is a genuinely mutually beneficial relationship built on trust and a desire to deliver impact.

“The bedrock of a good partnership is good communication. It’s about being clear from the outset what you are trying to achieve and have a supporting framework around this. Having academic leads absolutely but there are also people in other areas who can drive the partnership and know where there are tensions and bring them to the surface to strengthen the relationship in the future. Instead of burying the hard stuff, it’s better to actually put it on the table and create a platform for discourse around it and move forward constructively.”

Professor Sharon Naismith, Leonard P Ullman Chair in Psychology, School of Psychology, University of Sydney discussed how:

The Sydney-Fudan Brain and Intelligence Science Alliance (BISA) is a strategic partnership established in 2019 to raise research impact. Each institution committed to contribute AUD $4 million over five years to support collaborative activities. This is the largest investment by both universities to support international collaboration in the field of brain and mind science and technology.

The brain and mind research tackles the following fields: ageing population, mental health and brain disease. The partnership addresses SDG 3 Good Health and Wellbeing, especially target 3.4 ‘reduce mortality from non-communicable diseases and promote mental health’.  

“The collaboration will address how do we tackle these really big problems together, let’s think blue sky, and how to include other collaborators.”

Professor Michael Lazzara, Associate Vice Provost, Global Affairs, University of California, Davis discussed how:

UC Davis is only the second university in the US to have a voluntary review of engagement with the SDGs. They are also involved in a review with the city of Sacramento.  

“What we learnt from our colleagues is that measuring impact is difficult, there are long timeframes, the impact of research is not limited to a single dimension. Traditional academic metrics like citations, while useful, don't capture the full scope of impact, especially in fields where non-academic stakeholders are involved.”

Professor Alex Mihailidis, Associate Vice President, International Partnerships, at the University of Toronto said:

“Partnerships like ours with University of Sydney are so important to advancing global challenges.”

 “One example is the work that our professors are doing together on the challenges of student mental health. This is a topic of great importance not limited only to two universities, but all of our partners around the world.”

Ms Emma Hoy, Communications and Development Coordinator of global newswire 360info, said: 

“Before universities can fulfil their immense potential, they must learn how to amplify their research beyond academic silos and communicate more effectively with decision makers and the global public.” 

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