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Manchester named world’s best university for action on sustainable development

  • Wednesday, April 21, 2021
  • School

The University of Manchester has been named the world’s number one university in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings. The University topped the table of more than 1,200 universities from around the world on action taken towards the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs are the world’s call to action on the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing humanity and the natural world. They were first unveiled in 2016 and built on the UN’s original eight Millennium Development Goals to eradicate poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease.

The SDGs stress everything from zero poverty, zero hunger, good health, quality education, gender equality, and clean water and sanitation, through to the promotion of affordable clean energy, decent work and economic growth. They also promote innovation, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities, responsible consumption, climate action, and unpolluted oceans and land.

AMBS impact

AMBS has played a prominent role in terms of the University’s engagement with the SDGs. For instance the Sustainable Consumption Institute at AMBS explores how adjusting consumption and production systems can bring about less resource intensive ways of life, while the Work and Equalities Institute is internationally recognised for its research into global inequalities and the world of work.

AMBS also established one of the world’s first business and human rights networks at a business school, while it also recently launched the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work to improve workplace wellbeing, and last year also founded The Productivity Institute.

Hongwei He from Alliance Manchester Business School

Professor Hongwei He, Director of Social Responsibility at AMBS, said the award was vindication of how the SDG agenda was completely “embedded” within research and teaching across AMBS.

“This award really aligns with all the work that the School has been doing over several years now. The SDG agenda is a key priority that we encourage colleagues to engage with, not just in terms of research but also with regards to encouraging more explicit social responsibility content within course modules, and also more generally in terms of how we conduct our daily lives and our approach to equality and the environment. The SDG framework provides an excellent structure to bring all these component parts together.”

Leading role

As the UK’s only university to have social responsibility as a core goal, Manchester plays a leading role in tackling the SDGs through research impact, learning and students, public engagement activity, and responsible campus operations. These are realised through the civic engagement work of the University’s cultural institutions, how students are engaged with the SDGs, its commitment to a zero-carbon future, paying staff a living wage, and through the quality of reporting of progress on each of the 17 SDGs.

University of Manchester President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to top the world in the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings in 2021, but more importantly we’re pleased to be part of a growing community of universities committed to measuring and sharing their societal impact.

“We’ve taken part in the University Impact Rankings since their inception because we value the feedback they provide about our performance on each of the global goals. They cover every aspect of a university’s impact: our research, our teaching and learning, our engagement with the public and how we operate as sizeable organisations in our cities and regions.”


With a record number of universities from 98 countries taking part in this year’s rankings, Manchester topped the overall table as well as achieving first place for its work towards the SDGs of Sustainable Cities and Communities and Responsible Consumption and Production as well as a second place for work in relation to Life Below Water.

Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer, Times Higher Education, said: “In a year that has seen record levels of participation in the impact rankings, with 1,240 universities from 98 countries and regions included across the 18 ranking tables, and the clear strength of institutions in every corner of the world when it comes to helping achieve these shared goals, the success of The University of Manchester and many British peers is testament to the vital role universities across the home nations are playing in helping to ensure a sustainable future.”

Here is some further information about how the University is helping tackle the UN Sustainable Development Goals. You can also watch our short film in which Nancy Rothwell and Julian Skyrme highlight how the University is helping tackle the UN Sustainable Development Goals.