University of Manchester named world’s best for social and environmental impact 2021

The University of Manchester has topped this year’s Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which measure and compare universities’ performance against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) worldwide.

Times Higher Education, a specialist magazine known for its global university rankings, has published a yearly impact ranking since 2019. This is the first time a UK university has made it to the top of the list.

UN under-secretary general and executive director of UNAIDS, Dr Winnie Byanyima, said: “This deserved recognition for its enormous social, environmental and economic impact is even more reason for everyone associated with the institution to be immensely pleased. I offer them my sincerest congratulations.” 

A total of 1,240 universities from 98 countries or regions applied to the 2021 edition, up from 859 last year. Each institution is ranked according to its performance overall and on the 17 individual SDGs.

Australasia is well represented in the top 10, with five universities based in Australia or New Zealand. There are 11 UK universities in the top 50.

This [is] deserved recognition for its enormous social, environmental and economic impact - Dr Winnie Byanyima

The University of Manchester, which climbed eight places since last year to become the best rated university overall, also topped the list for two SDGs: sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production.

Examples of work on these SDGs include research on age-friendly cities by the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing, and work to develop climate resilient cities and infrastructure by the Manchester Urban Institute.

The University of Manchester also works towards the SDGs in its day-to-day operations, for example by buying food from local suppliers to reduce its carbon mileage.



Backing budding social entrepreneurs

Robert Phillips, a senior lecturer at the university's Alliance Manchester Business School whose work focuses on social entrepreneurship, told Pioneers Post that the social enterprises created at the University of Manchester were having an impact on all SDGs.

As well as “a great undercurrent of interest in social enterprise amongst students of all subject areas” there was now a “coherent pipeline of support available” for budding social entrepreneurs, including finance and workshops.

Being in a big city like Manchester on a city centre campus allows students to see problems first hand, and they are often keen to help

“Being in a big city like Manchester on a city centre campus allows students to see problems first hand, and they are often keen to help.” He added that social enterprises created at the university had a “direct, measurable impact on the wider community and contribute[d] to the SDGs in a meaningful way”.

One such social enterprise is Invisible Manchester, which trains homeless people to become city guides and directly contributes to the 'sustainable cities and communities’ goal, against which University of Manchester was rated first worldwide. 

The University of Manchester also does extensive research on SDGs, with more than 230,000 papers on the subject published to date – 4% of all UK research on SDGs. 

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, said in a statement: “We’re absolutely delighted to top the world in the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings in 2021, but more importantly we’re pleased to be part of a growing community of universities committed to measuring and sharing their societal impact. 

“We’ve taken part in the University Impact Rankings since their inception because we value the feedback they provide about our performance on each of the global goals. They cover every aspect of a university’s impact: our research, our teaching and learning, our engagement with the public and how we operate as sizable organisations in our cities and regions.”

Top picture: the Sackville Street Building at the University of Manchester. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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