Achieving the SDGs demands the collective goal of all and sundry and Tertiary students must be involved in this struggle.
In September 2015, world leaders at the United Nations unanimously adopted “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of priorities and aspirations to guide all countries in tackling the world’s most pressing problems, such as poverty and hunger, protecting the planet from degradation, and addressing climate change.
To achieve this global development agenda, students and tertiary institutions cannot be overlooked.
Universities are noted for their unique role in creating a sustainable future for all. Currently, universities are progressively re-thinking their role in the 21st century to be more responsive to societal needs while becoming drivers of change towards solving global challenges.
We must acknowledge that tertiary institutions are in a distinctive position to lead the implementation of all the goals. They can encompass and address all goals from different areas of work and action.
Universities have long been powerful drivers of change both at local, regional and global levels and can support the SDGs in myriad ways.
According to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Australia, New Zealand and Pacific report (2019), tertiary institutions are in a unique position in societies because they are neutral and trusted stakeholders that promote dialogue and spaces for collaboration between different types of stakeholders and promote certain issues and values without being swayed by corporate interests.
The Ghana Students Accountability Network (GSAN) is a non-partisan student-led movement within tertiary institutions in Ghana, championing and intensifying the awareness of the United Nations Agenda 2030. GSAN questioned the public via Twitter during the fourth anniversary of the SDGs to solicit the views of students regarding the SDGs.
GSAN asked: “Are the tertiary institutions preparing students towards the achievement of the SDGs?”
It was interesting to establish that the SDGs, which were mounted on the principle of “Leave no one behind”, have already left university students behind. “I am in my final year at university but I still don’t understand what the SDGs seek to address. Authorities must make the SDGs an integral part of school curriculum and research,” a student from Knutsford University College stated.
Many responses from students clearly reflected students’ exclusion in the SDGs monitoring and implementation process. As president of GSAN, I believe emphatically that we are already failing in achieving the SDGs if there is little or no clear action plan for tertiary students and institutions to be part of the SDGs’ implementation and accountability process.
Reorientation of tertiary education
Leaders must reorient tertiary education and learning so that current and future implementers of the SDGs can acquire the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that empower them to contribute to a sustainable future. GSAN believes that student awareness of the SDGs is crucial and paramount to the attainment of the goals because many of them can only be achieved through behavioural change.
Moreover, the exclusion of tertiary institutions by the SDGs Implementation Coordination Committee (ICC), a sub-unit of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), in the consultation process towards the preparation of Ghana’s first Voluntary National Review report presented at a high-level political forum held in New York in July, is a clear indication that “Leave no one behind” is indeed a mirage.
It is against this backdrop that we would like to propose that the ICC of the NDPC recognise universities in Ghana as key collaborators of the SDGs and deliberately involve students, especially tertiary students, in their programming and activities as this cohort represents the driving force needed to ensure that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development becomes a reality.
Universities should show more interest
Additionally, universities should show much more interest in the SDGs, especially at national level, and harness their unique access to large concentrations of young people. This will contribute directly to all the SDGs by working with young people to co-create solutions relating to Agenda 2030.
I also propose that universities include the concept of the SDGs within all their research activities, support research on topics that address the SDGs, support social entrepreneurs and capacity-building to motivate and encourage students to contribute towards the SDGs’ achievement.
Finally, I appeal to tertiary institutions to encourage and support all student clubs and societies to engage with the SDGs, and collaborate and promote student volunteering activities that address the SDGs. Achieving the SDGs is our collective duty.
By Francis Ametepey
The writer is the founder and president of the Ghana Students Accountability Network @Gsanofficial