So you know about the UN Sustainable Development Goals and you’re committed to a sustainable future for the planet. What now? And how does it all fit in with the day to day of learning and teaching?

During a recent event for Global Goals Week, UTS Sustainable Development Goals Project Manager Alex Fransen explained what the UN SDGs mean for us, including how UTS currently ranks against the 17 SDGs in Australia and globally.

Alex also shared practical suggestions about where we can focus our own efforts, both within and outside the classroom. Here she expands on some introductory ideas and examples of how the Sustainable Development Goals can be integrated into curriculum.

How do SDGs fit with curriculum?

In Accelerating Education for the SDGs in universities, a guide produced by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a number of approaches are suggested which can be adopted and adapted depending on context, capacity, and what is being done already.

The guide notes that elements of SDGs can be integrated into most learning and teaching activities in some form, as they are extremely broad in nature, cutting across all subjects and disciplines. The importance of interdisciplinarity is highlighted here, with the involvement of multiple stakeholders and action-based learning.

In practice, this can mean integrating SDGs through project-based and co-curricular work, including leadership programs and student-led activities. Other common approaches in universities have included interdisciplinary introductory units, MOOCs, online content and degrees focussed on the topic of Sustainable Development. Ideally, a combination of approaches will be used.

Integrating the SDGs into existing curriculum

One obvious place to start is to look at current curriculum, and how the Sustainable Development Goals can be integrated. Acknowledging that university-wide change to mainstream curriculum is challenging, the guide offers a five-step process for a strategic approach to implementation, which includes:

  1. Map what you are already doing
  2. Build capacity and ownership for ESDGs (‘Education for the SDGs’)
  3. Identify priorities, opportunities and gaps
  4. Integrate, implement and embed the SDGs
  5. Maintain, evaluate and communicate

Far from being an academic exercise, this process requires input from a wide range of both internal and external stakeholders, including students, teaching staff, university leaders and partners.

Example in action: UTS Business School

There are many examples already of some of the approaches above at UTS, including the award-winning Industry Innovation Project offered by TD School. The UTS Business School has also been recognised, most recently with Associate Professor Melissa Edwards’ appointment as the inaugural Climate Action Fellow by the Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC), the peak body for Australia’s university business schools.

More broadly, evidence of institutional commitment to ethics, responsibility and sustainability (ERS) is now required by all major business school and programme accreditation bodies. Engagement of educational institutions with the SDGs is an integral part of emphasizing this commitment, and UTS Business School has committed to incorporate social justice and sustainability into all course reviews and to expand Indigenous education.

You can read more about how the SDGs are integrated into this approach in the UTS PRME Report 2021, which captures the Business School’s progress to date.

Where to next?

Much of the published guidance on integrating SDGs into curriculum emphasises that widespread adoption takes time, stakeholder involvement and the development of approaches which can evolve and change. There are several pilot mapping exercises already underway with interested faculties at UTS; you can also start by engaging with the SDG Assessment Tool and use the findings to prompt further discussion.

Other ways to kickstart further action are activities such as forming a working group with champions from across the university to explore best practice approaches, and eventually creating a framework or guide on how to adopt a university-wide approach.

Further reading and resources

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