By Ruth A. Pagell*
(28 Nov 2022) “The research that universities conduct plays a significant role in solving the greatest challenges facing the climate and our societies. As institutions, they also play a significant role in educating future generations and as well as being resource consuming organisations themselves. It is important to consider all three factors: research, education and operations when evaluating the impact of universities. This approach is central to the QS Sustainability Rankings.” (Kamolins, L.)
As articulated by Kamolins, the QS approach broadens the role of the university and its responsibility to its community and the world. It joins two existing sustainability rankings, UI GreenMetric, from the Universitas of Indonesia, first released in 2010, and THE Impact Rankings, released in 2019. See a list of Ruth’s Rankings covering SDGs, beginning in 2019 under Resources.
The Universitas of Indonesia created UI GreenMetric World University Rankings before there were SDGs. It bases its approach on “environment, social and economics”. It ranks universities‘ performance on a set of specific green activities, such as limiting the number of motor vehicles on campus. The 2021 edition has 959 universities from 79 countries. Each country has its own page. Universities opt-in. New rankings for 2022 should be available at year’s end. Since the publication of Ruth’s Rankings 48 Part 1, UI Green Metric has broadened its services.
Almost a decade after the underpublicized UI GreenMetric, THE Impact rankings appeared, aligned with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. Elsevier created a research search strategy available in Scopus and in Mendeley for each goal. The universities choosing to participate in THE’s Impact dataset are separate from the universities THE selects for its world rankings. They are not the world’s top universities. Use websites for universities that have not opted-in, such as Harvard, Oxford, National University of Singapore, and Tsinghua.
QS WORLD UNIVERSITY RANKINGS: SUSTAINABILITY
I looked forward to the release of this ranking. It is primarily based on third-party data. Universities do not opt-in. Harvard, Oxford, NUS, and Tsinghua are ranked. The QS focus incorporates the approach of the rankings of companies that use ESGs, Environmental, Social, and Governance (RR 48 part 2). The QS 2022 World Rankings, had a prototype of Sustainability ratings, using two equally weighted categories, Environmental and Social Impact. Universities were rated Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Candidate based on research output. Over 800 universities in the 1,300 university dataset received a rating. 700 universities have met the standard for the Sustainability rankings out of 1,422 which were eligible in 2023.
Methodology for 2023 Sustainability Ranking
A university has to pass three filters to be included in the 2023 Sustainability ranking. First, it has to be in the QS World University Rankings. It has to show a commitment to mitigating climate change as seen in policy or strategic documents that are publicly available. The third criterion is based on research in selected categories mapped to SDGs.
Since the Sustainability Rankings include new metrics, I drilled down to get to the source of the underlying data. Using Elsevier for research, each SDG has been assigned a lens, each lens has its own sources, using QS’ own data such as its reputation rankings, and third-party information from open data sources. The Appendix includes the details on drilling down into the QS metrics and Table 53 A: Sustainability Rankings- Lenses and Metrics.
Since I have been writing a series of articles on gender, I chose Equality as my example for the full description of a lens. Equality is 15% of the Social Impact category. It has eight metrics.
EXAMPLE 1: Metrics for Equality
In addition to publications, data are collected directly from the university and from its website, from QS’ Academic Reputation survey, and from third-party data. Equality includes:
- Student gender, faculty gender, and women in leadership gender: total number and number of males in each category to calculate a percent of non-males
- Equality, diversity, and inclusion policy – checking public links
- Academic equality, staff view from Academic reputation survey which measures support for disabilities (also checking links to university), LGBT, and gender
- National statistics for the gender pay gap, the ratio of women in the workforce, seats held by women in parliament, and education achieved from the 2022 Sustainable Development Report, Palma index measuring income inequality, and UCLA’s Global Acceptance Index
Click on this URL to drill down from social and environmental impact to individual lenses: https://support.qs.com/hc/en-gb/articles/6107352412828-QS-World-University-Rankings-Sustainability-
What is the most sustainable university in the world? In Asia?
In QS 2023, 700 universities received an overall rank, rankings on the two impact categories, and eight lenses. See Appendix Table 53 B for QS top 10 universities by categories and their world rankings Nine of the top 10 are from English-speaking countries. The US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand have more universities in the Sustainability top 50 than in the world’s top 50. See Appendix Table 53 C: for QS’ top East Asian universities with six different countries.
For comparison, eight different counties are in THE’s Impact top 10. Canada leads with six. There is one from the US. Only one of THE’s top 20 is in THE’s world top 50. THE has the most diverse group of countries. It is the only one of the three that maps directly to the SDGs.
Eleven different countries are also represented in the UI GreenMetric top 20.
Although the names may not be as familiar as other rankings, all but two of their top 20 are ranked in QS or THE world rankings.
Table 53.1: lists the top 10 in the world in the three rankings.
In Asian rankings, The University of Tokyo is first in QS, King Abdulaziz in THE, and Universitas Indonesia in GreenMetric. All of THE’s Impact top Asian universities are ranked by QS. Eight of UI GreenMetric’s top universities are in THE Impact, and only four of UI GreenMetric universities are in QS Sustainability. See the full top ten Asian list in Appendix Table 53 D.
There are three articles in recent editions of University World News critiquing the rankings which I read after doing my own analysis. Holmes, well known for his writings on university rankings, presents a clear picture of the rankings’ results and discusses one of my major concerns which is the Western focus of the rankings. I do not agree with his conclusion that universities should stick to research and teaching, since that narrow approach, I think, marginalizes the role that universities should be playing.
Kigotho writes from an African perspective, presenting his overview of the ranking, with extensive quotes from Kamolins and Rankings Manager Andrew MacFarlane (both of whom helped me with this article). His second article highlights the 16 African universities in the QS rankings. THE impact rankings has 82 African universities.
Using QS’ terminology, QS, THE, and UI GreenMetric provide different lenses to universities’ contributions and commitments to sustainable development, resulting in differences in top universities and in geographic distribution. In QS universities from Australia, Canada, China, the US, and the UK make up a higher percent of the Sustainability dataset than in the QS World rankings. In THE Impact, the US is under-represented while countries such as Pakistan and Malaysia have more universities in THE’s Impact rankings than in their world rankings. GreenMetric has no world equivalent. 11% of the database is Indonesian universities with the US at two percent. Table 53.2: compares the focus of the three rankings.
See THE Impact Rankings Methodology 2022, version 1.3 https://the-impact-report.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/Impact+2022/THE.ImpactRankings.METHODOLOGY.2022_v1.3.pdf
UI GreenMetrics indicators are categorized as Settings & Infrastructure (15%), Energy & Climate change (21%), Waste (18%, Water (10%), Transportation (18%), and Education and Research (18%). Each category has its own set of indicators https://greenmetric.ui.ac.id/about/methodology/
No university can be called the most sustainable. None of the top 20 rankings from each of the rankings is in all three top100 lists. THE and UI GreenMetric can only say that these are the most impactful or sustainable universities based on the metrics used for their unique set of universities. QS’ use of an existing dataset fills the gap left by universities that chose not to opt-in and it excludes universities that are not in QS. Despite the limitations of each of these rankings, used together with individual university websites, they promote universities’ expansion of their missions beyond teaching and research in support of a more sustainable future.
The need to find new ways to evaluate universities continues to be in the news as I try to finish this article. Yale and Harvard Law schools are withdrawing from the U.S. News rankings because the rankings devalue the schools’ initiatives toward equality (Hartocollis). The Financial Times “is also in the process of revising its system of notable to capture how schools should respond to the broader societal needs of people and planet alongside profit “(Jack).
Ruth’s Rankings SDG Background
Update (29 Apr 2020): THE’s first update, https://librarylearningspace.com/releases-2020-impact-rankings-based-sustainable-development-goals-anything-changed-ruths-rankings-update/
Update I10 Mar 2021): Elsevier releases its SDG search strategies https://librarylearningspace.com/exciting-new-features-from-clarivate-and-elsevier-and-updates-to-university-rankings-ruths-rankings-news-update-winter-2021/
Update (29 Apr 2021) :Third release of THE Impact rankings https://librarylearningspace.com/thes-2021-impact-rankings-is-the-third-time-the-charm-a-ruths-ranking-news-update/ for methodology see https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/impact-rankings-2022-methodology
Update (3 Sep 2021), Introduction of SDGs to QS rankings, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-ranking-news-update-august-2021-covering-the-arab-region-and-sdgs/
RR 48 Part 1 (20 Nov 2021), introduction to UI GreenMetric, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-48-part-1-how-green-is-my-university-ranking-green-universities-new-metrics-and-new-leaders/ ; for methodology see https://greenmetric.ui.ac.id/about/methodology
RR 48 Part 2(21 Dec 2021) Introduction to Country and company (ESGS) metrics https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-48-part-2-country-and-company-environmental-rankings-add-new-sets-of-indicators-to-our-vocabulary/
Update (25 Jan 2022): Clarivate adds SDGS as a research option, https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-ranking-news-update-december-2021-january-2022/
Update (5 May 2022). THE adds a new metric https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-news-update-april-2022-rankings-are-as-good-or-bad-as-the-people-using-them/
Hartocollis, A. (16 Nov 2022). “Yale and Harvard law schools withdraw from U.S. News rankings”, New York Times, online news feed
Holmes, R. (29 Oct 2022). “Do we need to measure social and environmental impact? “University World News”. https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20221028150226407%22
Jack, A. (21 Nov 2022). League tables need to consider societal needs”, Financial Times Business Insider, online.
Kamolins, L. (4 Nov 2022), Director of Analytics & Evaluation, personal email; see more of Kalomins remarks at https://www.qs.com/qs-world-university-rankings-sustainability/
Kigotho, W. (27 Oct 2022). “New rankings fix universities at centre of sustainability”. University World News. https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20221027143059132
Kigotho, W. (27 Oct 2022). New sustainability rankings list 16 universities from Africa” University World News”, https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20221027102013546
Sachs. J.D. et al. (2022). Sustainable development report: from crisis to sustainable development; the SDGs as roadmap to 2030 and beyond. Cambridge University Press, https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/sustainable-development-report-2022/566A60C4894679DFABC49DA6E76C59E7
BONUS: Additional resources
Sustainability continues to be a hot topic in higher education. Sign up for the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) https://mailchi.mp/c17664687791/weekly-newsletter-796160?e=70545decdd
University World News V13 November 2022 Issue No: 716 has several articles that are relevant to universities and sustainability:
Atherton, G. Higher education’s equity crisis threatens the whole sector
Mashininga, K. Students Call for climate conscious universities,
SawahaL, W (13 Nov 2022) Business Schools for Climate initiative launched, an African initiative
A list of Ruth’s Rankings and News Updates is here.
*Ruth A. Pagell is emeritus faculty librarian at Emory University. After working at Emory, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University and then adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674