Tsinghua University President Qiu Yong urged universities around the world to further strengthen cooperation with the United Nations (UN) to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address the most urgent global challenges such as climate change.
President Qiu delivered his remarks at the webinar for presidents of global universities with the UN Secretary-General entitled "University Sector Support to UN Secretary-General's Call for a Decade of Action on the SDGs" on Thursday.
The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global network of over 1,000 universities supporting the SDGs, held the two-day online seminar to discuss the role of universities in mainstreaming the SGDs into university curricula and operations, conducting SDGs research and facilitating evidence-based stakeholder dialogues on the implementation of SDGs.
"Only by building closer and stronger partnerships with UN agencies can universities contribute to the realization of SDGs. Only by joining hands can we jointly achieve this 'decade of action' – and in so doing, inspire a brighter future for all," he said while addressing the first panel discussion of the webinar on the topic "The Future of Higher Education in the Post-COVID World".
He underscored that future universities must be more open, more integrative and more resilient; future learning must be more student-driven; future teaching must be smarter; and future education must be more inclusive.
He said Tsinghua University has demonstrated its commitment to work with UN agencies and other global partners to effectively respond to the UN's global call for a decade of action to realize the SDGs, by establishing research entities like the Institute for Sustainable Development Goals of Tsinghua University (TUSDG) and launching a dual master's program for SDGs in collaboration with the University of Geneva.
In his remarks, President Qiu also highlighted Tsinghua's role in addressing the most urgent challenges around the world, such as climate change. "In May 2019, the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate was jointly established by 12 universities from six continents at Tsinghua University. The alliance aims to promote university leadership and the role of the university in climate change mitigation," he added.
He said Tsinghua continued to promote the quality and inclusiveness of education during the pandemic by utilizing innovative technologies and setting up online "clone classes" to support the universities in the regions hardest hit by the pandemic, including Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan University and others universities.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Colombia University, who is also director of the SDSN, and Chair of the International Academic Committee of TUSDG, praised Tsinghua's quick response in organizing online classes to support other universities during the pandemic, and expressed his appreciation of President Qiu for stressing the need for more inclusive and smarter universities in the future.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the opening session of the two-day webinar via a video message. He said he was grateful to see universities around the world remain strongly committed to the SDGs despite facing colossal logistic and other challenges.
He said that the need to achieve the SDGs have become more urgent than ever in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic as it has not only caused a great suffering but also laid bare the world's inequalities and fragilities. "Together we can make multilateralism more effective and make our world more sustainable, equitable, climate friendly and peaceful," he said.
"Over the past five years, government after government have expressed a genuine commitment to the SDGs but very often they lack the know-how and the capacity to govern and implement policies that deliver inclusive and sustainable economies. This is where universities can play a key role," UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said, urging universities to come up with more ambitious and decisive actions to help accelerate the progress on the SDGs even as the world grapples with the pandemic.
Peter Wells, Chief of Higher Education at UNESCO, said that the pandemic has offered an opportunity to refine methodologies for online teaching and learning, pedagogies and assessments, and enabled higher education institutions to achieve the SDGs, in particular the SDG in terms of widening access to quality higher education delivery for everybody.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, President, Rockefeller Foundation; Lee C. Bollinger, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, Columbia University; Jeffrey Cheah, Foundation Chancellor, Sunway University also delivered the opening remarks at the webinar. Joanna Newman, Secretary General, Association of Commonwealth Universities; Hilligje van't Land, Secretary General, IAU; Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi, Director, UNU-IAS; Peter Lennie, Executive Director, Worldwide University Network; Wayne Frederick, President, Howard University; Raghunath A. Mashelkar, President, Jio Institute; Makoto Gonokami, President of the University of Tokyo and Chair of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU); addressed at the session themed as "The Future of Higher Education in the Post-COVID World". Xue Lan, Dean of Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University, Co-Chair of the Leadership Council of the UN Sustainable Development Solution Network (UNSDSN) and Co-Director of TUSDG, also attended the webinar.
The second day of the webinar on Friday featured several panel discussions. Tsinghua's Vice President and Provost, Chairman of Board of Directors of TUSDG Yang Bin delivered his remarks on the topic "Universities and Climate Change".
"We believe that in the face of the common challenge of climate change, colleges and universities in the world have a shared responsibility to play a leading role in terms of promoting education and research on climate for the future," Yang said.
He said the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate established at Tsinghua encouraged research on climate change solutions that address global sustainable development goals and reduce impacts on the world's most vulnerable populations. "The alliance has launched a multilateral research project on Carbon Neutral Future, around technology, policy and investment. We are planning a number of academic meetings and are working to produce the first alliance academic report before COP 26," he added.