Times Higher Education to rank Universities on their contribution to the SDGs

Times Higher Education (THE) has announced that it’s launching a new global ranking that aims to measure institutions’ contributions and success in delivering the UNs’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We look at how this ranking has been developed and consider some of the implications for the sector.


How has the ranking been developed?

The ranking seeks to evaluate how an individual institution contributes to society by evaluating three main factors:

  • Research – creating knowledge to address the world’s problems;
  • Stewardship – managing resources and teaching well;
  • Outreach – direct action in society.

This understanding has been used to assess the relevance of all the SDGs for the higher education sector and to identify a set of metrics that provide insight on progress. SDGs were prioritised and metrics identified through consultation and by assessing data availability.


How can Universities respond and what is the methodology?

In 2019, the first year of ranking which is being treated as a pilot, THE will collect data on 11 of the 17 goals from universities that participate by providing data through the portal. The ranking for each university will be based on one mandatory goal (goal 17 – partnerships for the goals) plus the best three scoring SDGs for that specific institution. This means that universities can demonstrate their performance in the areas that are most relevant to them.

THE will use provided data to produce:

  • An overall ranking of universities based on the top three SDGs for each individual university, plus SDG 17
  • Individual rankings of universities for each SDG

In the first year 11 of the 17 SDGs will be assessed with Universities having to respond to a minimum of 4

Only universities that submit data for the goal 17 and three other SDGs will be included in the overall ranking, but those that submit to individual goals will be included in the ranking for the goals that they have responded to.

Data will come from a variety of sources, including direct submissions from institutions and bibliometric datasets from Elsevier. As with the World University Rankings, THE will normalise for university size where appropriate and ensure equity between countries and universities.



The ranking gives the sector, for the first time, a global standard for showcasing contributions to sustainable development. It enables a university to explore whether sustainability is at the heart of its strategy, to put in place goals and initiatives to contribute meaningfully to the SDGs, and it offers a common lens through which progress can be evaluated.

The overall ranking has the potential to affect an institution’s reputation. Clearly there’s an opportunity for a good news story, either in a specific area that is closely linked to an institution’s focus or in the overall ranking. Equally, by not responding or by scoring poorly, universities may lose their ability to claim leadership and break commitments to transparency.

It will be interesting to see the extent to which the ranking influences the choice of students, researchers and staff. According to a 2017 survey of 60,000 students, the position of a university within rankings came third, with 23.5% of respondents stating that this was the most important factor when choosing a university.

With an increasingly competitive sector in the UK, could this be a much-needed opportunity for differentiation and help universities to attract new students?


What should you do now?

With the THE portal now open for data collection until the end of December 2018, now is the time for Universities to determine if they will respond to the first ranking.

  1. Conduct a gap analysis by evaluating the relevance of the 11 SDGs included in the first year of reporting and investigating data availability for the metrics associated with relevant goals.
  2. Confirm if your institution will respond.
  3. Respond by logging in to the THE portal, accessing the full methodology from the portal and providing data for the period January 2017 – December 2017.


Find out how we help the Higher Education Sector

Contact Us:

If you are working in higher education and have any queries about how your institution will be affected by the rankings and would like to understand how we might leverage our expertise to guide you through the process please contact will.jenkins@carboncredentials.com