After 2030 Logo

In 2015, member states of the United Nations, including Canada and the UK, adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that seek to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve wellbeing for all (Benavot, 2016). The SDGs represented a major shift from the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (Fukuda-Parr, 2016). Where the MDGs were a development agenda for the Global South that focused on poverty alleviation, the SDGs apply to all countries and include an encompassing view on development. Moreover, the MDGs were driven primarily by the United Nations with little role for civil society.

In contrast, the SDGs are a broader and transformative agenda. Negotiations for the SDGs invited many stakeholder groups to define the new goals, including governments, civil society, academia, and business. The SDG agenda is more comprehensive, with stand-alone goals for inequality and gender. Moreover, the goal of balancing human development with environmental impact was a paradigm shift in the global approach to development (Fukuda-Parr, 2016).

Universities are recognized as an important partner in meeting the SDGs (Chankseliani & McCowan, 2021; McCowan, 2019), and studies document how the SDGs are increasingly integrated into curriculum, mission statements, and university-wide strategic plans (Ceulemans et al., 2015; Cortese, 2003; Disterheft et al., 2013; Hallinger & Chatpinyakoop, 2019; Wu & Shen, 2016). More recently, numerous sustainability assessments have emerged to assess, compare, and rank universities’ performance and contributions to the SDGs (Bullock & Wilder, 2016; Urbanski & Leal Filho, 2015). These changes have positioned universities as among the leading institutions working to institutionalize sustainable development throughout their societies.

Yet at the halfway mark of the SDG period, it is now apparent that the SDGs also have limitations. One of the major critiques of the current agenda is their lack of appreciation or incorporation of Indigenous knowledges and explicit links to decolonization, both of which have important contributions to how development is understood and pursued (Briant Carant, 2017; Struckmann, 2018; Yap & Watene, 2019). Another widespread concern is that the SDGs have little explicit engagement with culture of any sort, missing out on important contributions of the arts, humanities and social science scholarship that could enhance individual-level engagements with the SDGs. These are areas where our universities have deep expertise and have much to bring to the conversation about future possibilities for the post-SDG agenda.

Over the next few years, the global development community will be laying the groundwork for what comes after the SDGs. There is a need for higher education stakeholders from around the world to discuss what has been accomplished by universities working on higher education and the SDGs and the limitations with current approaches and practices. The goal of the After 2030 project is to help shape the post-SDG agenda by developing an informed understanding of the limitations of current practices and outlining recommendations for the future. We hope to produce a short synthesis for a public audience on the role of universities and comparative education scholars in contributing to both the SDG agenda and as thought-leaders for what comes next – After 2030.