Mobilizing higher education action on the SDGs: insights from system change approaches

Tahl S. Kestin, Julio Lumbreras, María Cortés Puch

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Research

1 Citation (Scopus)


Higher education institutions (HEIs) are increasingly recognizing that their unique functions and expertise in research, education, and community leadership make them essential societal partners for helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, the sector is not reaching its full potential, or acting fast enough, given the dire state of global progress on the SDGs. There has been a growing recognition that higher education's (HE) ability to scale up action on the SDGs is hampered by a range of systemic and structural barriers within institutions, the HE sector, and the local and global contexts more broadly. However, many of these barriers and the potential solutions for overcoming them have been known for years, and a key challenge HE now faces is how to put these changes into practice. In this chapter, we build on insights from the work of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and others on system transformations for sustainable development, as well as our own work on HE engagement with the SDGs, to propose several 'meta' reasons that might be hampering efforts to scale up HE action on the SDGs, as well as some suggested approaches for addressing them. These approaches include treating HE as a system, defining better the outcomes we are aiming for, employing adaptive leadership approaches, and investing in genuine partnerships. While a detailed treatment of these approaches is beyond the scope of this chapter, we hope to encourage the HE community to look at this old problem in new ways.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHigher Education and SDG17
Subtitle of host publicationPartnerships for the Goals
EditorsÁngel Cabrera, Drew Cutright
Place of PublicationBingley UK
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Limited
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781804557044, 9781804557068
ISBN (Print)9781804557075
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2023

Publication series

NameHigher Education and the Sustainable Development Goals


  • Barriers
  • Higher education
  • Levers
  • Sustainable development goals
  • Systems change
  • Transformations

Cite this