The University of Pretoria (UP) has released its first progress report reflecting on the institution’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as articulated by the United Nations’ Agenda 2030. In the report, the university demonstrates clear alignment between its own goals and intentions and the aspirations articulated in the SDGs.
“As a leading research-intensive university that produces impactful knowledge, seeking solutions for the world’s most pressing issues, our purpose is entirely congruent with the SDGs and we have no doubt that the work we do on a day-to-day basis must, and does, contribute to achieving the goals,” said Professor Tawana Kupe, the University of Pretoria’s vice-chancellor and principal.
The SDG progress report, which forms part of the emerging suite of sustainability-related reporting by the university, flows from the institution’s overarching Sustainable Development Report.
According to Dr Brian Chicksen, adviser to the executive on special projects at the university who led the team developing the report, it reflects UP’s intention to progressively strengthen qualitative and quantitative evaluation of its sustainability performance, and understand the attribution of their work to broader sustainability outcomes.
“Reporting on our contribution towards achieving the SDGs is underpinned by our belief that as a university we are an integral part of society and are required to be responsive to current and future societal challenges faced nationally, continentally and globally,” said Chicksen.
Addressing the human condition
The report clusters the SDGs along connected themes that view addressing the human condition as central to sustainable development:
• On being human considers the basic foundations of our humanity and includes SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 10 (reduced inequalities).
• Realising Our human potential enables us to make a difference and covers SDG 3 (good health and well-being) and SDG 4 (quality education).
• Our human existence is enhanced by application of our human potential and speaks to SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure).
• At the same time, we must be mindful of Our planetary boundaries, which include SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 13 (climate action).
• And we embrace Co-existing with all forms of life covering SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land).
• Achieving all of the SDGs is critically enabled by Partnerships for the Goals.
“The selection of content for inclusion was based on a qualitative assessment, acknowledging that the report represents only a sample of our vast set of actions which contribute to achieving the SDGs. Data and performance metrics incorporated were sourced from institutional data and metrics, and from publicly available reports,” said Kupe.
For example, the university builds capability to improve the life chances of people through its core purpose of education and knowledge creation.
Enabling and broadening access to the university, particularly for students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, is a strategic imperative.
To achieve this, the university has adopted an integrated approach across the student life cycle, partnering with various stakeholders to identify and nurture talent from high school through to graduation.
One of a range of activities includes the After School Programme which, in partnership with government education departments, provides support in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects) to students in the neighbouring disadvantaged community of Mamelodi.
This is also paired with training in life skills, study methods and other mentoring, with the expected outcome of contributing towards the achievement of SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 1 (no poverty).
The university’s contributions to SDGs 3 and 4 are at the heart of its purpose to contribute meaningfully to societal development, and this includes both institutional obligations towards the university community, as well as the positive impacts sought in broader society.
Given that community engagement is built into every curriculum, substantial impact in this area is achieved by students and staff in myriad ways across each faculty of the university.
This includes playing a lead role over the years in contributing directly to achieving national targets of reducing all forms of mortality and ending the AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics through teaching, research and service provision.
The university is also a significant contributor to training and developing teachers for the country and the continent.
In influencing the policy landscape and building capability for accelerated action in the SDGs, the university is active across the raft of SDGs.
Shaped by research
This is shaped by its research across the broad sustainability-related themes of: fair and sustainable economies; plant, animal and human life and well-being; natural resources and the environment; science, technology and infrastructure; and democracy, inequality, social justice and cultural identity.
With its large geographic footprint, the University of Pretoria is aware of the clear stewardship role it has to play in protecting the environment and its biodiversity.
Its sustainability journey has evolved over the past decade to meet increasing targets in terms of water, energy and waste reduction, and new developments incorporate green building principles into their planning, design and construction.
On a broader scale, researchers across various faculties contribute to the categories Our planetary boundaries and Co-existing with all forms of life on a daily basis. For example, two UP researchers are part of an international team focusing on ecosystems, land degradation and sustainability that has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Sustainability-related reporting in higher education is an emerging space and, in many ways, as a future-focused institution, we are navigating new territory,” said Kupe.
“Underpinned by our enquiry-led and transdisciplinary approaches, we are continuing to explore and learn in a way that we hope will contribute to knowledge and practice in our global university community.”
This is the first in a series of articles promoted by the University of Pretoria.