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Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development (HESD)

Future well-being of humanity and the planet depends on successful resolution of the interconnected challenges of economic, social, cultural, and environmental sustainability. Since 1993, IAU advocates for the key role higher education plays in achieving sustainable development. IAU’s actions in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provide a framework for universities to develop inter-institutional collaboration in pursuit of sustainable development. The aim is to assist higher education leaders wishing to embed sustainable development concepts and principles in strategic planning, academic and organizational work.


  • Encourage peer-to-peer learning using IAU global network of higher education leaders
  • Monitor trends, develop and share expertise on the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Foster whole institution approaches at the leadership level to integrate sustainable development priorities
  • Provide leadership training, capacity building and networking services

IAU HESD Flyer 2021



IAU represents the voice of its Members globally, develops guidelines for embedding sustainable development in higher education and research and provides analyzes of global and regional trends on institutional approaches to sustainable development.

>> To learn more about IAU Policy Statements and the Global Surveys on HESD, go to RESOURCES.


- The IAU HESD Cluster is a group of 16 IAU Members who, collaborate with IAU to enhance knowledge sharing and develop expertise, projects and recommendations on how higher education can reach the SDGs.
>> To learn more about the IAU HESD Cluster, go to IAU GLOBAL CLUSTER ON HESD.

- IAU is a key partner of the UNESCO GAP ESD, which ends 2019. IAU will continue to be involved in the follow-up programme ESD for 2030, which will be launched at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in June 2020. It also collaborates with other international and national entities and sits on several committees to advance cooperation in HESD.


- The IAU Global Portal maps institutional initiatives and showcases best practices on sustainable development from around the world. It includes more than 800 higher education institutions.
>> To learn more about the IAU Global portal on HESD, go to GLOBAL PORTAL

- The SDG Publication Series is a biannual publication — each edition is dedicated to a particular SDG and highlights IAU Member initiatives.
>> To learn more about the IAU SDG Publication Series, go to RESOURCES.

The working group, composed of IAU Administrative Board members, provides advice on the strategic direction in HESD:

- Pornchai Mongkhonvanit, President, Siam University, Thailand

IAU President
- Pam Fredman, Former Rector, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

- Ranbir Singh, Former Vice Chancellor, National Law University, India
- Mahmoud Nili Ahmadabdi, President, University of Tehran, Iran
- Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, Vice Chancellor, International ‎Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and Former Vice-Chancellor Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia
- Roberto Escalante Semerena, Secretary-General, UDUAL, Mexico
- Remus Pricopie, Rector, National University of Political and Administrative Studies, Romania

IAU Secretariat
- Hilligje van't Land, Secretary General, International Association of Universities
- Isabel Toman, Programme Officer, International Association of Universities


To enhance international cooperation in HESD, IAU cooperates with various key partners and sits on several committees.
Click on each partner to learn more about our cooperation:

UNESCO ESD for 2030

Copernicus Alliance

Energy Observer


Green Gown Awards

Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie

Association of Commonwealth Universities



Launched in 2018, the IAU Cluster on HESD promotes the role of higher education institutions in building more sustainable societies. It is a consortium of IAU Member universities from all parts of the world, working in collaboration to develop existing and new exciting initiatives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all United Nations Member States in the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Cluster encourages a holistic approach to the SDGs, promoting the whole institution approach, where institutions aim to embed sustainable development in their strategic planning, academic and organizational work.


Each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is assigned an institutional team leader, joined by a group of up to 8 Satellite Universities. IAU is responsible for leading the work on SDG 17 - Partnerships for the goals.
IAU and the 16 lead institutions, together with their satellite universities are acting as the voice for higher education at the United Nations’ High Level Political Forum. Through this international cooperation, the project has the most global outreach than any other projects in the field.


Discover the Members of the IAU Global Cluster on HESD ! Click on each SDG to learn more about the lead institution and its initiatives :

If you wish to get involved in the activities of the IAU Global Cluster on Higher Education and Sustainable Development, please contact Isabel Toman, IAU Programme Officer for HESD. Please indicate your institution’s name, your contact details and do not hesitate to provide information on the existing and/or future initiatives towards sustainable development at your institution!



IAU developed a dedicated portal on Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development:

This global portal presents IAU’s strategy to support sustainable development in higher education, reports on all IAU activities in the the field, provides useful resources about sustainable development in higher education and maps more than 800 inspiring initiatives implemented by higher education institutions and organizations to reach the SDGs.|

The Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development (HESD) global portal is a tool developed by the International Association of Universities; it provides access to actions and initiatives developed around the world to promote sustainability. It showcases best practises of universities and higher education institutions worldwide. Actions include student initiatives, Living Labs, Green Campuses, faculties engaged in sustainable development, and leadership initiatives.

The portal is searchable by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), type of initiative, organisation/HEI and area of work. Currently, the portal lists over 480 News items , more than 820 actions from 1186+ HEIs and 274 Organizations globally (May 2021).

If you wish to add your higher education institution, action, or news to the portal, please contact Isabel Toman.



The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is the yearly conference of the United Nations where governments, UN Agencies and civil society came together to discuss the achievements that have been made towards Agenda 2030. The theme this year for the largely virtual event was “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development".

HLPF 2021 was held from 6 to 15 July, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council. This included the three-day ministerial meeting of the forum from 13 to 15 July as part of the high-level segment of the Council. The theme and SDGs under review can be found on the 2021 HLPF website.

>>> List of UN HLPF 2021 virtual events co-organised by IAU (by date) <<<

The 2021 HLPF was hosted virtually. All official sessions of the 2021 HLPF are available to watch via UN Web TV. Special events, side events and other (all events IAU is actively involved in fall into this category) were streamed live via YouTube. Links can be found on the UN DESA Website.

IAU and/or Cluster Members were involved in the following side events:

  • 7th July 3-5 pm CEST (9 a.m. EST):
    HESI (Higher Education Sustainability Initiative) Virtual event (Find the recording of the event here) titled: “The role of further education to drive collective action for the SDGs: building a sustainable and resilient recovery”. IAU is part of HESI and follows HESI roundtable discussions throughout the year.

  • 7th July: 5.15-5.45 CEST (11:15 EST):
    Awards Ceremony International Green Gown Awards (IGGA) (Information and Winners here): IAU is partner of the IGGA, sat on the judging panel, and the IAU Secretary General presented the winner for ‘Next Generation Learning and Skills” at the virtual ceremony

  • 12th July 2.30-4.15 CEST (8.30-10.15 a.m. EST):
    UNITAR Workshop with ACU/AUF, and the SDG Academy titled “Filling the gaps in further education for the 2030 Agenda and inspiring action towards the SDGs
    (see programme here; and our session here)
    (All workshop recordings here and IAU Session 9 recording here)
    IAU co-organized this event, IAU partners and representatives from IAU Members were on the panel. The discussion was moderated by Florencia Librizzi from SDSN, and IAU Secretary General Dr. Hilligje van’t Land.

  • 13th July 2:30–4:00pm CEST Paris:
    IAU Webinar Series page here ; Find the recording of the event here

IAU at the HLPF

IAU has Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) which enables participation in this High-Level event. While 2019 was the first year that IAU participated in the HLPF in New York (IAU secretariat with a delegation of 18 Members), in the years before IAU was represented by its Members (and in particular through the University of Bergen, Norway). Read about it in the 2019 HLPF Report. In 2020 and 2021, participation in the HLPF is virtual.

Follow us for updates on the UN HLPF also here:


IAU provides research and monitors trends in order to help higher education institutions worldwide implement HESD.


>>> Mapping HESD worldwide – IAU HESD Global Portal
The IAU HESD portal is a tool accessible to all, spotlighting IAU Members’ and Partners’ contributions to the sustainable development goals. The aim is to generate synergies and networking around the world in favour of sustainable development. The portal features more than 700 initiatives and counts some 1000 monthly visitors.

>>> Researching HESD trends

IAU HESD global survey 2019
IAU HESD global survey 2016

In 2016, the IAU launched its first global survey on the role of higher education in fostering sustainable development. The aim was to analyse IAU Members’ approaches to sustainable development. 120 institutions from all continents took part in the survey.
After launching its first survey in 2016, the IAU launched its second global survey on the role of higher education in fostering sustainable development in 2019. Next to analysing IAU Members’ approaches to sustainable development, it focused on the knowledge and implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2030. The 2019 survey counted 536 valid responses from 428 universities in 101 distinct countries, compared to 120 institutions in the 2016 survey.

>>> Publications

- Higher Education and SDG 5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls, 2021
- Higher Education & SDG 13 : Climate Action Through University Teaching, Research and Community Engagement, 2019
- Higher Education Paving the Way to Sustainable Development: A Global perspective, 2017
- The Role of Higher Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, 18 experts worldwide shared their views in IAU Horizons, 2014
- The Contribution of Higher Education to Sustainable Development, 26 experts worldwide shared their views in IAU Horizons, 2012

IAU started a Series of Publication, one for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The first one on SDG 13 (Climate Action) was released in July 2019, followed by a publication on SDG 5 (Gender Equality) published on the occasion of International Women’s Day in March 2021. The publications contains actions and initiatives from 15 higher education institutions and universities around the world. Currently, IAU is working with the University of Bergen on a publication for SDG 14 (Life below water) and with UNODC/E4J in the context of a paper competition for young scholars related to SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). Both are planned for release in autumn 2021.


IAU advocates for the key role of higher education for sustainable development and Agenda 2030 and high-level events such as the UN-HLPF, at UNESCO conferences and other global events with its Members and partners.


IAU and its Member institutions are committed to working together towards a more sustainable future, including for SDG 13: Climate Action ahead of COP26. Several initiatives are in place to stress the role of higher education in research, teaching, student and community engagement, and more.

The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from 31 October – 12 November 2021. Leaders, governments, and civil society representatives will come together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Soon the younger generations will take over these events and important decision-making on the international scale. Higher education, thus has the responsibility to prepare them to create a better future for all.

>>> IAU HESD Cluster on SDG 13

The University of the West Indies leads SDG 13: Climate Action in the global IAU HESD Cluster. It is located in the Caribbean with campuses in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and hence in one of the regions already affected by climate change. The University has multiple initiatives focusing on sustainable development: the Climate Studies Group Mona (CSGM), Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), and the cross-campus UWI Resilience Working Group (UWIRWG).

Satellites for SDG 13
• University of Bergen, Norway
• TERI School of Advances Studies, India
• University of the South Pacific, Fiji
• University of Waterloo, Canada
• Universidad de los Andes, Colombia
• University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
• University of Aruba, Aruba
• University of Bristol, UK
• University of Ghana, Ghana

More information on their SDG13 Activities with the University Consortium on SDG 13 is available here.

>>> IAU Partner Initiatives for COP26

The Global University Climate Forum is a project that aims at empowering students to take action in order to reduce Climate Change. It brings student activists together to share ideas, learn, connect, and act on the global imperative of addressing climate change. Launched during the week of 9 November 2020, the Forum is a one-year program that is inclusive, inspiring, and impact-oriented.

134 multidisciplinary teams of students from 44 countries have been accepted to participate based on their proposals for actionable projects in one of four tracks: Inspiration and Empowerment, Ideas into Action, Governance and Policy Innovation and Innovation and Imagination. Nearly 500 accepted students participated in a series of workshops in November 2020. Once the workshops were done, students executed and reported on their ideas for six months. They are now working on a publication to be presented during COP26 to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

More information on the Forum is available here.

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), a close partner of IAU for HESD, has also compiled information and opportunities to engage on this website
The ACU Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort was created in the lead-up to COP26 with an aim to accelerate knowledge transfer across the Commonwealth. The ACU and the British Council have therefore partnered to establish the Cohort supporting 26 rising-star researchers from 16 countries to bring their expertise to a global stage.

More information on the Cohort is available here.

SOS-UK is a student-led education charity focusing on sustainability. The IAU has renewed the cooperation agreement with them in June 2021. They are planning various activities at an around COP26.

During COP26, the Education Ministers Summit is planned to take place on 5 November with participation from governments, UNESCO, UNFCCC, UNEP, and others. More information on this will follow shortly.

The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) is also planning various activities around COP26, including the participation at the THE Climate Impact Forum.
Universities and individuals can sign on to the SDG Accord and "Race to Zero" commitments. More information here.

IAU Secretary General Dr. Hilligje van’t Land is joining a pre-COP26 webinar on Higher Education, Knowledge Democracy and Sustainability on Monday, 11th October 2021, from 4-5:30 CEST. Based on the book Socially Responsible Higher Education: International Perspectives on Knowledge Democracy, this webinar will focus on two themes: knowledge democracy and place-based learning, offering perspectives from India, Africa, Latin America, and North America. The event is a joint initiative between the UNESCO Chair in Community-based Research and Social Responsibility, the Centre for Research and Development in Adult and Lifelong Learning (University of Glasgow) and the Low and Middle Income Countries Research Network (University of Glasgow).
Registration and more information here..


>>> IAU Policy Statements on HESD & supported declarations

>>> Letter from the President of the United Nations General Assembly (2017)
H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson, Former President of the United Nations General Assembly, reached out to the IAU to call on all leaders of higher education institutions to embrace the sustainable development goals. The Association disseminated the UN letter to all IAU Members and Partners worldwide.

>>> Open Letter to COP21 Ministers and Governments (2015)
On 1 December 2015, a global alliance of higher education sustainability networks, including the IAU, representing more than 3,000 universities and colleges worldwide, jointly issued an Open Letter urging Ministers and Governments to acknowledge and strengthen the research and education role that universities and colleges play in addressing climate change.

>>> Rio+20 People’s Sustainability Treaty on Higher Education (2012)
A partnership of over 30 agencies, organizations and associations, led by Copernicus Alliance and the IAU, developed the Higher Education People’s Sustainability Treaty to influence Rio + 20 dialogues.

Isabel Toman

NGO in official partnership with UNESCO in associate status
International Association of Universities, UNESCO House, 1 rue Miollis, 75732 Paris cedex 15, France
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