The urgency of UN SDGs in universities

By Herman M. Lagon

AS THE WORLD navigates the intricacies of a rapidly changing landscape, where global challenges seem to multiply faster than the solutions we devise, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emerge as a beacon of hope, a roadmap towards a more equitable and harmonious world. These 17 interconnected goals encompass many challenges ranging from eradicating poverty to mitigating climate change, and they beckon us to align our efforts across all sectors towards their achievement. Among these sectors, the role of universities becomes pivotal, as they are the crucibles where knowledge, innovation, and leadership converge.

At the heart of the SDGs lies the conviction that sustainable development begins with education. Goal 4 underscores the imperative to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” This objective encapsulates the essence of societal transformation, for education imparts knowledge and skills and nurtures critical thinking, empathy, and a deep understanding of our interconnectedness.

For nations like the Philippines, the SDGs are not just distant global ambitions but tangible touchstones of progress. The country’s commitment to these goals, as NEDA Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan affirmed, reflects its resilience in the face of adversity and its determination to surmount even the most complex challenges. The VUCA, BANI, RUPT, or TUNA world, amplified by the pandemic, has magnified inequalities and exposed vulnerabilities. However, it is precisely in such adversity that the true essence of sustainable development resonates—the imperative to leave no one behind.

In this landscape, universities, with their capacity to drive knowledge dissemination and incubate ideas, become protagonists of change. This echoes the principle of being “men and women for others,” seamlessly woven into the fabric of the SDGs. Much like the Philippines’ stakeholder chambers on the SDGs, universities must cultivate interdisciplinary collaborations that weave together perspectives from arts, sciences, humanities, and technology. Only through such synergies can we address the multidimensional challenges of sustainable development.

Additionally, investing in the SDGs within universities is an investment in resilience, a strategy that fortifies societies for a more sustainable future. This investment encompasses not only financial resources but also a commitment to curricular reform, research, and community engagement. Universities must offer programs that embed sustainability into various disciplines, fostering a generation of graduates equipped not just with specialized skills but also a holistic understanding of global challenges.

With just a decade left to realize the SDGs, an urgent call for action echoes across academia, industry, and governance. The private sector, exemplified by Ayala Corporation, Globe, and BPI, and universities shown by ADMU, DLSU, UST, and Mapua, demonstrate that integrating sustainability into core business practices is not just a moral imperative but a strategic advantage. As dynamic centers of innovation, universities must heed this call and integrate the SDGs into their DNA. By doing so, they can catalyze research, policy, and advocacy that drive progress toward a sustainable world.

The issues behind the UN SDGs are complex, and the solutions require a collaborative approach that transcends borders, ideologies, and disciplines. Investing in the SDGs within universities is not just an exercise in compliance; it’s a commitment to shaping the world’s future leaders who understand the true meaning of progress and internationalization—one that is inclusive, equitable, and environmentally responsible. In the Philippines and beyond, the fusion of the ideals of social justice with the SDGs creates a unique and powerful narrative—a narrative of hope, resilience, and unwavering dedication to a brighter, more sustainable future of society. As universities embrace this narrative, they become not just institutions of learning but crucibles of transformation, igniting a global movement towards a more just and sustainable world.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.