Aligning Higher Education with the United Nations SDGs


    Syllabus: GS2/ Education

    In Context

    • Educational institutions have to rethink their approach so that it is in tune with the NEP which will be crucial in realising the 2030 deadline for SDGs.

    Sustainable Development Goals

    • The United Nations Document “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
      • This agenda contains 17 goals and 169 targets. 
    • The agenda is built on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were adopted in 2000 and were to be achieved by 2015.
    • SDGs provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.  
    • They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

    Challenges in achieving Sustainable Development Goals

    • Though it has been eight years since the inception of these goals, the SDGs Report 2023 flagged slow progress and painted a grim picture.
      • The reasons are cited as the prolonged effects of COVID-19, impacts of the climate crisis, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and a weak global economy
    • The lack of progress towards the goals is a universal experience, but it has been more pronounced in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs)
    • India, despite having managed the crises of the global economy and relatively succeeded in overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic, has suffered a setback in achieving these goals.
    About the National Education Policy 2020

    – The NEP 2020 is founded on the five guiding pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability. 
    – In school education, the National Education Policy 2020 stresses on the core values and principle that education must develop: 
    1. not only the cognitive skills, that is, – both ‘foundational skills’ of literacy and numeracy and ‘higher-order’ skills such as critical thinking and problem solving – 
    2. but also, social and emotional skills – also referred to as ‘soft skills’ -including cultural awareness and empathy, perseverance and grit, teamwork, leadership, communication, among others.
    – It recommends a plethora of reforms at all levels of school education which seek to ensure quality of schools, transformation of the curriculum for the age group of 3 to 18 years. 
    1. For that, the “10 + 2” structure will be replaced with the “5+3+3+4” model.
    – It seeks to:
    1. Increase public investment in education, 
    2. Strengthen the use of technology and 
    3. Increase focus on vocational and adult education, among others.

    NEP 2020 and SDGs

    • SDG4: 
      • It pertains to access to quality education. It is a prerequisite for the achievement of other goals. 
    • India’s role towards achieving SDG4: 
      • India, with a long-standing history of equitable and inclusive education, has accelerated efforts to ensure the achievement of SDGs through various reforms. 
      • Among them, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 should be given credit to a great extent.
    • NED 2020 & SDGs:
      • NEP 2020 has been prepared in tune with most of the SDGs. 
      • Though NEP 2020 calls for changes at all levels of education, priority should be accorded to higher education as it accelerates social mobility, empowers people through creativity and critical thinking, and grants them employment skills.

    Role of Higher Education in  Sustainable development

    • OECD’s data:
      • According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), people with a higher education degree are more employable and earn an average of 54% more than those who only have completed senior secondary education. 
    • Role in achieving SDGs: A university-inclusive education, thus,
      • Better protects people against poverty (SDG1), 
      • Prevents them from hunger (SDG2), s
      • Supports them for good health and well-being (SDG3), 
      • Promotes gender equality (SDG5), 
      • Provides them decent work, which in turn drives economic growth (SDG 8), and 
      • Reduces inequalities (SDG10).
    • Role of Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach:
      • Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary systems of education produce multitalented people who can pursue research, and find innovative solutions to global challenges such as
        • Affordable and clean energy (SDG7), 
        • Sustainable cities and communities (SDG11), 
        • Climate change and global warming (SDG13), as well as studying their impact on an economy and the earth.


    • Integrated approach:
      • To accelerate the progress towards achieving the 2030 agenda, the 56,205 higher educational institutions and universities in India should work together.
    • Multidisciplinary outlook:
      • Universities should come out reinvigorated and play a part in the education, innovation, culture, and civic life of their local communities. 
      • Community health, energy-saving measures, efficient resource allocation, waste reduction, development of local skills, as well as the sharing of services, infrastructure, and facilities with other universities or external partners should become a culture in universities.
    • Strengthening the research-teaching nexus:
      • Universities should strengthen the research-teaching nexus in university education. 
      • That way, students will become direct benefactors of the knowledge generated from research.
    • Adopting sustainability as a mantra:
      • It is high time that universities adopted sustainability as a mantra and incorporated SDGs into their institutional strategies, both in daily administration and in teaching and research. 
    • Role in socio-economic development:
      • It has been realised that higher education cannot work in isolation; rather it must be directly integrated with socio-economic development where each activity and transaction has meaningful and multiple impacts on SDGs. 
      • Every citizen must feel that the universities contribute directly to their well-being and nation-building.

    Way ahead

    • Need of achieving SDGs:
      • SDGs are a matter of urgency, and actions by all countries, both developed and developing, to end poverty and other socio-economic and environmental problems should align with strategies that improve the standard of life and education, reduce inequality, and harness economic growth.
    • Attaining Goals for “Life on Land”:
      • Innovative solutions and start-ups (SDG 9) must be developed in collaboration with private companies. 
      • Introducing Value-Based Education (VBE) will help citizens become responsible towards self, society, and the planet and help our nation achieve “Life on Land” (SDG15).
    Daily Mains Question
    Examine the role of the National Education Policy 2020 in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for India.