Saudi and UAE universities reach top rankings for sustainability work

Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings reward promotion of the UN's sustainable development goals

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Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University has been ranked joint fourth in the world for its work on sustainability in the 2022 Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings.

The university was ranked alongside Universiti Sains Malaysia with an overall score of 97.5.

The ranking assesses universities against the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs). It evaluates progress across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching.

Progress is measured for each of the 17 SDGs. There is a ranking for each SDG and an overall ranking.

The UAE’s University of Sharjah and Al Ain University were in the world's top 300 (201-300).

Australia’s Western Sydney University claimed top spot in the overall rankings, which includes 1,406 institutions, after topping the table for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and coming second in SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production).

Two UK institutions were in the top 10, with Newcastle University eighth and the University of Manchester ninth.

The UK outshines other countries with 20 universities in the first 100, closely followed by 17 Australian institutions, 16 Canadian, and seven from New Zealand.


In the Middle East ranking, Saudi Arabia topped the list with eight universities, followed by the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, and Palestine at two each.

In the individual SDG rankings, two Saudi universities feature in the top 10 for SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 5 (gender equality). One Saudi institution makes it to the top 10 for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation); SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth); SDG 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure); SDG 10 (reduced inequalities); and SDG 13 (climate action).

Universities in Egypt and Jordan made it to the top 10 for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation). Ain Shams University came third and Al Ahliyya Amman University was fourth. Egypt’s Aswan University was also seventh for SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy).

Turkey is the most-represented nation across the rankings, with 64 universities featuring in total (the same number as India). Istanbul Technical University and Middle East Technical University feature in the 101-200 overall rankings.

“The rankings [focus] on how universities are improving our world, not on traditional measures such as wealth and scholarly prestige,” Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer of Times Higher Education, said.

“It is inspiring to see such a large, diverse, and rapidly-growing community of universities from all continents [are] committed to showcasing best practices in delivering the sustainable development goals.

“Students, as well as governments, are increasingly demanding such commitments and these demands will strengthen.”


What are 17 sustainable development goals?

The sustainable development goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice.

Here are the top universities by SDG

SDG 1 - No poverty: Western University in Canada for researching on poverty and support for students from poor families.

SDG 2 - Zero hunger: Hokkaido University in Japan for research on hunger, teaching on food sustainability, and commitment to tackling food waste and hunger on campus and locally.

SDG 3 - Good health and well-being: Iran University of Medical Sciences for research on key diseases and conditions, support for healthcare professions, and health of students and staff.

SDG 4 - Quality education: Aalborg University in Denmark for contributing to early-years and lifelong learning and commitment to inclusive education.

SDG 5 – Gender equality: Chiang Mai University in Thailand for research and policies on gender equality and commitment to recruiting and promoting women.

SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation: Western Sydney University in Australia for research related to water, water usage, and commitment to ensuring good water management in the wider community.

SDG 7 - Affordable and clean energy: Fudan University in China for energy research, energy use and policies, and commitment to promoting energy efficiency.

SDG 8 - Decent work and economic growth: The University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa for economics research, employment practices, and share of students taking work placements.

SDG 9 – Industry, innovation, and infrastructure: The University of British Columbia in Canada, the Technical University of Munich in Germany, and the University of Twente in the Netherlands on research on industry and innovation, number of patents and spin-off companies, and research income from industry.

SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities: The University of Canberra in Australia for research on social inequalities, policies on discrimination, and commitment to recruiting staff and students from underrepresented groups.

SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities: Arizona State University in the US for research on sustainability, role as custodians of arts and heritage, and internal approaches to sustainability.

SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production: The University of Canterbury in New Zealand for research on responsible consumption and approach to the sustainable use of resources.

SDG 13 – Climate action: The University of Tasmania in Australia for research on climate change, use of energy, and preparations for dealing with consequences of climate change.

SDG 14 – Life below water: Arizona State University for research on life below water and education on and support for aquatic ecosystems.

SDG 15 – Life on land: Arizona State University for research on life on land and education on and support for land ecosystems.

SDG 16 – Peace, justice, and strong institutions: Universiti Sains Malaysia for research on peace and justice, participation as advisers for government, and policies on academic freedom.

SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals: The University of Liverpool in the UK and Universiti Sains Malaysia for supporting the SDGs through collaboration with other countries, promotion of best practices, and publication of data.

Updated: April 27, 2022, 6:00 PM