The Release of the New QS Sustainability Ranking: By Florence Sargent

In categories: 

On the 26th of October, the new QS Sustainability Ranking 2023 was released. It recognises universities across the globe that are taking action to tackle the world’s greatest Environmental, Social and Governance challenges.

Out of seven hundred universities, the University of California, Berkeley has been ranked as the world’s most sustainable university, contributing to 50% of the overall score. The University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia follow in second and third place. The University of Edinburgh was the only UK university in the top ten, ranked in fourth place.

QS stands for Quacquarelli Symonds. It is the world’s largest international higher education network and is responsible for publishing annual university rankings. It was previously known as Times Higher Education – QS World University Rankings, however, in 2009, it became independent, and now works in partnership with Elsevier. This year, QS has split the rankings into two categories: Environmental Sustainability which includes institutions, education, and research; and Social Impact measures, which include equality, knowledge exchange, educational impact, employability and opportunities, and quality of life. The ranking is focused more on research impact and alumni outcomes (the number of graduates in sustainable careers) than on-campus measures like renewable energy sources and recycling initiatives.

A 2019 report by QS found that 94% of international students thought that universities should be doing more for environmental sustainability This new ranking aims to assist students on the sustainability of an institution when they research where to study. This is important for Gen Z as Forbes called them the “sustainability generation” (2021). To be included in the QS world ranking, institutions must follow two criteria. The university must have a strategy on how to mitigate their impact on the climate crisis. They must also provide evidence of SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) research by demonstrating a non-zero score in ‘Research Impact into SDGs for Sustainable Research’, and at least two out of 4 SDG research metrics in the Social Impact categorial. To be analysed for each ranking, institutions must meet the following four criteria. They must perform in the top 50% of the regional ranking, and one new entrant must be accepted into the global Top 30% in academic reputation. For institutions with fewer than 5,000 students, they must perform in the top 1,000 in Academic Reputation, Employer reputation, and Citations per Faculty. Lastly, an institution must have at least 100 papers indexed by Scopus, Elsevier’s database, published over a 5-year window.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly established 17 SDGs designed to pave the path to a more sustainable future, stating that they are “addressing the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.” They inform Times Higher Education’s Impact Rankings of benchmarks that institutions must contribute to the SDGs. The SDG Research Mapping Initiative was established as a partnership between the University of Southern Denmark, the Aurora, and the University of Auckland and Elsevier. Universities are judged on six SDG’s: SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water), and SDG 15 (Life on Land). Three out of these six must score 5 or higher out of 100. They must also supply reports on emissions, energy, and water use. Alumni Impact Innovation is judged differently. It is based on awards such as Forbes “30 Under 30: Social Entrepreneurs”, Stockholm Water Foundation’s “Stockholm Water Prize”, and FT’s ‘Climate Leaders 2022’. Institutions are also checked whether they are members of the U7 Alliance, ISCN Network, HESI Network or IARU. If an institution is part of the Race to Zero Commitment, they will also receive fifty points for a published plan before 2022, all the way down to after 2060 which receives 5 points. Jardali et al. write that “Universities are uniquely placed to lead the cross-sectoral implementation of the SDGs and advance the 2030 agenda.” This new ranking should inspire universities to pursue this goal.  

Florence Sargent