2nd Regional Forum: Mainstreaming education for the SDGs in Higher Education



SDSN AusNZPac, ACTS, and PRME AusNZ forum brought together university leaders, education for sustainable development experts, and teaching staff from a wide range of disciplines to discuss good practices, challenges and opportunities for scaling up education for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across Higher Education in the AusNZPac region.

Video Day 1: Welcome, institutional approaches & global context
Video Day 2: Networks & collaboration and innovative programs
Video Day 3: Learning & teaching for climate action



Forum summary

  • Quick links
  • About the forum
  • Some key takeaways
  • About the organisers
  • Follow up activities

Quick links

About the forum

One of the most important ways Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to provide all their students, regardless of their professional path, with the knowledge, skills and mindsets to address complex sustainable development challenges. This is also aligned with SDG target 4.7, which calls for ensuring that “all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.”

A growing number of HEIs in the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific region are actively exploring and implementing ways to expand and mainstream their education for the SDGs offerings. The 2nd Regional Forum on Mainstreaming Education for the SDGs in Higher Education brought together 30 speakers from around the region – including university leaders, education for sustainable development experts, and teaching staff from a wide range of disciplines – to discuss good practices, challenges and opportunities for scaling up action.

The forum focussed on five intersecting areas of action, spanning in scale from the classroom to the whole sector:

  • Session 1: Institutional approaches
  • Session 2: The global context and case
  • Session 3: The role of networks and cross-institute collaborations
  • Session 4: Innovative educational programs
  • Session 5: Learning & teaching for climate change action

Some key takeaways

The sessions shared a wide range of great initiatives and discussed a range of important issues and learnings about mainstreaming education for the SDGs in higher education. Below we have summarised some of the key issues that particularly resonated with the organisers and participants. This is by no means a comprehensive summary of the forum, and we thoroughly recommend checking out the session recordings for the full discussion.

The case for institutional action

  • Action on climate change and the SDGs is urgent and we need to keep the momentum going. While there is a real sense that things in the sector are shifting, and that HEIs are seriously beginning to embrace the need to mainstream education for the SDGs, the pace and extent of change still does not match the urgency of the situation.
  • Students want education for the SDGs, and this can be a powerful driver for universities. But we need to approach how we implement this from their perspective – i.e., how this will be part of making them “work-ready+”.
  • Passion and commitment from university leaders to this agenda can be very powerful, and high-level institutional commitments and coordination are essential. However, these need to be backed up with support and resources for on-the-ground implementation that is tailored to the needs and culture of different academic disciplines.
  • We should be aiming for scale, so all students get some exposure to initiatives like immersion and capstones. However, there is room and need for a range of activities of different scales and different types that are more specialised (e.g., to develop entrepreneurship and leadership skills).

Supporting educators (and students)

  • Many education for SDGs initiatives are initiated and driven from the bottom-up by passionate individuals, sometimes with limited institutional backing. Institutional recognition for the efforts of these individuals, as well as proactive structures and support, are needed to ensure such initiatives are sustained.
  • For the mental wellbeing of both students and staff, it is important to balance acknowledging the seriousness of the current situation and predictions for the future for both climate change sustainability, with a sense of hope and practical action.
  • Education for the SDGs is not just about learning about the individual SDGs. It is also, importantly, about cross-cutting skills and mindsets. In addition, there is a growing interest in instilling the SDGs as a set of values.
  • There is still a lot of need to help educators understand what education for the SDGs means in terms of day to day teaching, including curriculum integration and task and assessment design. This is perhaps a set of skills that should be part of standard capacity building training for HEI educators.
  • Working with professional accreditation bodies to integrate elements of education for SDGs into accreditation standards is an important enabler of mainstreaming. Current accreditation standards vary widely among disciplines in terms of how much they address these, so are supporting action in some disciplines and hindering it in others.

The importance of cross-sector networks and collaborations

  • Opportunities, like this forum, for different institutions and different disciplines to share what they are doing on education for the SDGs are very valuable, as they are encountering similar challenges and opportunities, and can learn from each other.
  • Networks and cross-institution collaborations have a very important role in supporting action with institutions and in keeping momentum going, for example, by helping share what is happening across the sector and collaborating on resource development and advocacy. However, these activities require intensive coordination efforts, and dedicated resources to make them happen. With several networks and initiatives operating in this space in the region, there is also value in collaboration and coordination across networks, as this forum demonstrates.
  • Action on education for sustainable development and education for sustainability at HEIs has been taking place for a long time. There is much experience, expertise, resources and learnings we can build on as we move forward.

About the organisers



  • Rhiannon Boyd – General Manager, ACTS
  • Belinda Gibbons – PRME AusNZ Chapter Coordinator, University of Wollongong
  • Tahl Kestin – Network Manager, SDSN AusNZPac, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University

Expert Advisory Group:

  • Annette Bos – Associate Professor & Deputy Director (Education), Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University
  • Usha Iyer-Raniga – Professor, Sustainable built environment, RMIT University
  • Kristen MacKenzie-Shalders – Assistant Professor, Master of Nutrition and Dietetic Practice Program Food Service Domain Lead, Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University
  • Thelma Raman – Sustainability Education Advisor, Macquarie University
  • Jeannie Rea – Associate Professor, Arts & Education and Senior Project Manager, Planetary Health, Victoria University

Follow up activities

The organisers are working individually, together, and with other stakeholders to organise a range of follow-up activities around education for the SDGs. If you would like to stay informed about these activities, you are invited to sign up to our individual mailing lists or to the forum follow up mailing list.