The United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are our world’s call to action on the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing humanity and the natural world.
And if recent years have taught us anything – from pandemics and conflicts to climate change – it’s that we, as a global community, must stand united if we are ever to tackle them. For challenges faced by one are, in fact, faced by all.
With their ability to attract the brightest and most promising global talent to their halls, universities and higher education have a particularly profound obligation to create and share knowledge that will help contribute to the advancement of these goals. Indeed, as one of the world’s leading research institutions, The University of Manchester – and by extension, its six global centres including our own Manchester Worldwide S.E Asia – are in a unique position to engage, involve and inspire local, national and international audiences.
Social responsibility and civic duty have long been embedded in our DNA across our research, learning and students, public engagement activity and responsible campus operations. However, as we approach our third century, we are no longer satisfied with being a leading university in the world. Rather, we wish to be – with the engagement of our staff, students, alumni and external partners – an institution for the world.
We are single-minded in ensuring that we – alongside our partners and collaborators – deliver on the UN SDGs, and that our students are able to immediately understand how their study programmes ultimately ladder back to creating a healthier, fairer and greener society. To this end, we are committed to five key priorities – Social Inclusion; Prosperous Communities; Better Health; Environmental Sustainability; and Cultural Engagement – and corresponding actions as part of the Our Future strategic plan as we embark on this latest chapter in Manchester’s long-standing history.
Here are some examples of the progress our community has influenced and initiated globally.
Pronounced inequalities exist across the world – from access to food and clean water, all the way through to opportunities to participate in and benefit from education and the broader economy. For example, following the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in late 2021, educated Afghani women suddenly found their lives – and the future of their education and training – threatened by the Taliban.
The Manchester Institute of Education responded by providing free places on its Masters in Educational Leadership in Practice programme to a group of 15 Afghani refugee women, supporting them in their ambition to set up schools, colleges and nurseries for Afghani refugees living in exile. This was delivered by remote teaching and training to the women through The University of Manchester Worldwide blended learning scheme.
Closer to home, in early 2022, Manchester Worldwide S.E Asia initiated an alumni fundraising event as part of President’s Challenge – an annual Singapore-wide campaign designed to support vulnerable members of society. Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2022 edition focused on “supporting lower-income families” with opportunities to upgrade their skills so as to emerge stronger from the pandemic with greater employment prospects, as well as extend further educational support to their children.
Our students are learning how to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all. For example, our Global MBA has a specialisation in leading and managing socially-responsible businesses that are able to navigate a rapidly-changing world. Throughout our course, we encourage our master’s students to reflect and engage with the historical, cultural and ethical considerations that should underpin any commercial decision.
One former Singapore alumni, for example, shared how having the opportunity to visit multiple global centres and tap into a worldwide network of alumni contacts ultimately helped give them the toolset needed to influence their organisation at a regional and global level as they embarked on a new career chapter in the UK. Another shared how the programme enabled them to better connect Australian and New Zealand businesses into Asia.
With almost half of residents living on a dollar a day or less, Sub-Saharan African countries – such as Kenya – experience these health inequalities more acutely than any other place in the world. And while increased clinical provision is helping to increase survival rates, non-communicable diseases like cancer pose a disproportionate challenge to African healthcare systems.
In order to create better health outcomes for all, it is essential that we share the lessons we learn as part of the Manchester network to enhance access to healthcare. So, to address this discrepancy, The University of Manchester has partnered with the Kenyatta University Teaching Referral and Research Hospital to help improve the prevention and management of cancer in Kenya by creating a world-leading research centre focused on: developing novel, personalised therapies for East Africans; establishing research services; and training a larger, skilled workforce.
While major progress has been made in improving Southeast Asian health and wellbeing, there also remain significant challenges in understanding, preventing and tackling disease in this region. For example, in Indonesia, our academics are part of a collaboration to improve cardiovascular care. Cardiovascular disease accounts for more than one in three deaths across the archipelago, yet research shows nearly 70% of Indonesians aged 40 and above with a moderate to high risk profile don’t receive care. Working with local health workers (kaders), the team provided training on cardiovascular disease, risk factors and the technical use of an app called SMARThealth. Ultimately, this served approximately 48,000 people over the course of two years.
From rising temperatures and an increase in extreme weather events – floods, droughts, tropical storms and heat waves – to the erosion of nature and biodiversity, there is an urgent need to address the climate and nature crisis. Asian countries in particular are disproportionately affected by climate change, with the Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) citing that 6 out of 10 of the most climate-vulnerable countries are in South and Southeast Asia.
If we are to overcome the challenges ahead, now is the time for radical change. For example, traditionally-speaking, sustainability policies to reduce climate change have focused on taxes and regulations. However, research by the Alliance Manchester Business School has redefined the debate, demonstrating how instead large-scale transitions – including energy, food and mobility systems – are needed to deliver significant climate change. This has transformed how reducing greenhouse gas emissions is understood and addressed by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and has fed directly into policy recommendations made by the European Environment Agency.
As we roll-out new study programmes throughout our global centres in collaboration with our dedicated School of Environment, Education and Development (SEED), we are ensuring that tomorrow’s professionals are learning how to build towards and contribute to an inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable world – whether that’s by exploring the challenges of creating green infrastructure in cities that can withstand the toll of climate change, exploring the politics of climate change action, or setting international research agendas in human and physical geography.
The cultural and creative sector is a key driver of global social development. It’s a platform where dynamic economic and cultural exchanges occur, and innovation is nurtured. We are proud to invest in a number of world-leading cultural institutions – including Manchester Museum, the Whitworth, John Rylands Library and Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre – to deliver social and environmental impact by leveraging these spaces to tell broader, global stories. In the immediate future, these will include the development of a Future of Education space addressing environmental and social justice challenges; a Chinese Culture Gallery; and a South Asian Gallery.
To advance education, knowledge and wisdom for the good of society is what drives every fibre of our collective being at Manchester – and we are proud to carry on this tradition and legacy in Southeast Asia. However, we know that sustainable development must be a shared endeavour.
Our regional community of 18,500 alumni form part of a wider network of more than half a million past and current students, and academic and professional staff. Collectively, that represents a significant opportunity to create real impact against all SDGs. We remain committed to ensuring we act as inspirational agents for change, and proactively include our students in shaping our strategy to address social, environmental and civic challenges through our programs and public engagement activities. And perhaps, as we stimulate further ideas, actions and collaborations, we’ll get that much closer to a society that is able to serve all.