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Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development (HESD)

Future well-being of humanity and the planet depends on successful resolution of the interconnected challenges of economic, social, cultural, and environmental sustainability. For over three decades, the Association takes part in international and regional initiatives and organises events to promote the integration of sustainable development into higher education policies, strategies and work.

Overall objectives for 2016-2020

  • Encourage peer-to-peer learning using IAU global network of higher education leaders
  • Monitor trends, develop and share expertise on the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Foster whole institution approaches at the leadership level to integrate sustainable development priorities
  • Provide leadership training, capacity building and networking services


Since 1993, IAU advocates for the key role higher education plays in achieving sustainable development. The Association promotes the Whole Instituion Approach (WIA) and supports sustainable development on all levels.

IAU pursue its goal trough an ABC Strategy:

  • Advocacy & Analyses
  • Building synergies & networking
  • C}ommunicating & convening

IAU’s Strategic Plan and related actions in support of the 2030 AGENDA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT provide a framework for university leaders to develop inter institutional collaboration in pursuit of sustainable development. The aim is to assist higher education institution leaders, from our Members and Partners, wishing to embed sustainable development concepts and principles in strategic planning, academic and organizational work.

Working Group

The working group, composed of IAU Administrative Board members, provides advice to the Administrative Board and the Secretary General on the strategic direction in this field:

- Pornchai Mongkhonvanit, President, Siam University, Thailand

IAU President
- Pam Fredman, Former Rector, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

- Ranbir Singh, National Law University, India
- Mahmoud Nili Ahmadabdi, President, University of Tehran, Iran
- Mohammad Reza Pourmohammadi, Chancellor, The University of Tabriz, Iran
- Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, Former Vice-Chancellor Universiti Sains Malaysia and Former Vice-Chancellor, Albukhary International University, Malaysia
- Roberto Escalante Semerena, Secretary-General, UDUAL, Mexico
- Salvador Vega y Leon, Rector, Autonomous Metropolitan University, Mexico

IAU Secretariat
- Hilligje van't Land, Secretary General, International Association of Universities
- Stefanie Mallow, Programme Officer, International Association of Universities


IAU provides research and monitors trends in order to help higher education institutions worldwide implement HESD.


>>> Mapping HESD worldwide – IAU HESD Global Portal
The IAU HESD portal is a tool accessible to all, spotlighting IAU Members’ and Partners’ contributions to the sustainable development goals. The aim is to generate synergies and networking around the world in favour of sustainable development. The portal features more than 700 initiatives and counts some 1000 monthly visitors.

>>> Researching HESD trends – IAU HESD global survey 2016
In 2016, the IAU launched its first global survey on the role of higher education in fostering sustainable development. The aim was to analyse IAU Members’ approaches to sustainable development. 120 institutions from all continents took part in the survey.

>>> Publications
- Higher Education Paving the Way to Sustainable Development: A Global perspective, 2017
- The Role of Higher Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, 18 experts worldwide shared their views in IAU Horizons, 2014
- The Contribution of Higher Education to Sustainable Development, 26 experts worldwide shared their views in IAU Horizons, 2012

IAU started a Series of Publication, one for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The first one will be realeased in 2018. The publications will contain actions and intitiatves higher education instituions and universities are doing around the world. Please contact Stefanie Mallow to find out more.


>>> IAU Policy Statements on HESD

>>> Letter from the President of the United Nations General Assembly (2017)
H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson, Former President of the United Nations General Assembly, reached out to the IAU to call on all leaders of higher education institutions to embrace the sustainable development goals. The Association disseminated the UN letter to all IAU Members and Partners worldwide.

>>> Open Letter to COP21 Ministers and Governments (2015)
On 1 December 2015, a global alliance of higher education sustainability networks, including the IAU, representing more than 3,000 universities and colleges worldwide, jointly issued an Open Letter urging Ministers and Governments to acknowledge and strengthen the research and education role that universities and colleges play in addressing climate change.

>>> Rio+20 People’s Sustainability Treaty on Higher Education (2012)
A partnership of over 30 agencies, organizations and associations, led by Copernicus Alliance and the IAU, developed the Higher Education People’s Sustainability Treaty to influence Rio + 20 dialogues.


IAU has launched The Global Higher Education Cluster to address Agenda 2030. This global endeavor directly engages universities from around the world to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Cluster aims to serve at once as a resource and networking hub. You can learn more here and on the IAU HESD portal.

To enhance international cooperation in HESD, IAU cooperates with various key partners and sits on several committees:


The Global Action Programme (GAP) on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) seeks to generate and scale-up ESD and to accelerate progress towards sustainable development. The Partner Networks, consisting of 90 major ESD stakeholders, drive implementation of the GAP. IAU is one of the key partners (Action Area 2: Transforming Learning and Training Environments).


In September 2016, IAU and COPERNICUS Alliance, a European network of higher education institutions promoting transformational learning and change for sustainable development, signed a partnership agreement to jointly foster HESD.


IAU has been involved with the TROP ICSU Project since September 2018. TROP ICSU project is funded by the International Council for Science (ICSU), led by the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS), and co-led by the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA). IAU supports the project by distributing information about it, including the educators survey. IAU Members can benefit from trainings offered by the project.


IAU is a Member of the SULITEST Administrative Board and contributes to the development and awareness raising of this test tool and overall project.

Green Gown Awards

IAU took part in the 2016 jury of the French-speaking edition of the Green Gown Awards Les Trophées des Campus Responsables that recognizes exceptional higher education sustainability initiatives. IAU also took part in the 2016 jury of the International Green Gown Awards.



Every year the IAU Board meets to review progress made on IAU activities and to provide expert advice on the future developments of the Association. On that occasion, the IAU Working Group on HESD meets and works on initiatives developed to foster education and research for sustainable development.


Each year the Association organizes an international Conference. HESD always forms part of the topics addressed. At times, the conference is devoted to fostering debate on specific topics relating to HESD.

- IAU 15th General Conference (November 2016, Bangkok, Thailand)
The programme was dedicated to Higher Education: A catalyst for innovative and sustainable societies.
- IAU 2014 International Conference (March 2014, Iquitos, Peru). The theme was Blending Higher Education and Traditional Knowledge for Sustainable Development.


Learn more about IAU representation at external events.


The Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development (HESD) global portal is a tool developed by the International Association of Universities; it provides access to actions and initiatives developed around the world to promote sustainability. It showcases best practises of universities and higher education institutions worldwide. Actions include student initiatives, Living Labs, Green Campuses, faculties engaged in sustainable development, and leadership initiatives.

The portal is searchable by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), type of initiative, and area of work. It currently includes 720+ HEIs in over 100 countries and more than 700 actions worldwide.

If you wish to add your higher education institution, action, or news to the portal, please contact Stefanie Mallow.

Stefanie Mallow

NGO in official partnership with UNESCO in associate status
International Association of Universities, UNESCO House, 1 rue Miollis, 75732 Paris cedex 15, France
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