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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.


IAU’s Strategic Plan and related actions in support of the 2030 AGENDA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT provides 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.

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

IAU pursue its goal trough an ABC Strategy:

  • Advocacy & Analyses
  • Building synergies & networking
  • Communicating & convening


Since 1993, IAU advocates for the key role higher education plays in achieving sustainable development. It 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 350 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 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.


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.


Dr Hilligje van‘t Land, IAU Secretary General, is Member of the Administrative Board of UVED (Université Virtuelle Environnement et Développement Durable) in France where she contributes to the development of the UVED Foundation and the creation of a francophone MOOC dedicated to the sustainable development goals.


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.

HEIRRI Project

The HEIRRI (Higher Education Institutions and Responsible Research and Innovation) project aims at starting the integration of responsible research and innovation within the formal and informal education of future scientists and engineers. The IAU is member of the science communication & internationalization advisory board and works on disseminating the project results. Discover the resources developed by HEIRRI.



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.

NGO in official partnership with UNESCO in associate status
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