Impact Blog

THE Impact Rankings 2021

April 2021

Now in its third year, the annual Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings were announced on the 21st of April.

The THE Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals are the United Nation’s “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice”.

While some are a bit cynical about the ‘business’ of rankings, others see this as one way to measure what universities are good for, rather than what they’re good at.

All of the 17 UN SDGs are evaluated:

  1. no poverty
  2. zero hunger
  3. good health and well-being
  4. quality education
  5. gender equality
  6. clean water and sanitation
  7. affordable and clear energy
  8. decent work and economic growth
  9. industry innovation and infrastructure
  10. reduced inequalities
  11. sustainable cities and communities
  12. responsible consumption and production
  13. climate action
  14. life below water
  15. life on land
  16. peace, justice and strong institutions
  17. partnerships for the goals

How it works

Universities can submit data on as many of the SDGs as they can. Any university that provides data on SDG 17 and at least three other SDGs is included in an overall ranking. As well as the overall ranking, the result of each individual SDG is provided in separate tables.

Four broad areas of university performance against the goals are covered:

  • Research – how they help to deliver the SDGs by creating research in relevant topics.
  • Stewardship – how they act as stewards of their significant physical and human resources.
  • Outreach – the universities work with their local, regional, national and international communities.
  • Teaching – developing the skilled practitioners to deliver on the SDGs and making sure that alumni take forward key lessons of sustainability into their future careers.

For SDG 17 – partnerships – this looks at the broader ways in which universities support the SDGs through collaboration with other countries, promotion of best practices and publication of data.


Overall ranking results – 10 Australian universities in the top 50

This year, the list includes 1,154 institutions from 96 countries/regions. An increase from 768 in 2020.

As in previous years, Australian universities have demonstrated their significant environmental, social and economic impacts filling 4 of the top 10 spots overall.

The University of Sydney came in second, for the second year.

RMIT came in third, read more about their results here.

La Trobe was fourth overall and came second in the world for both gender equality (SDG 5) and for decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), read more here.

The University of Wollongong was equal sixth.

The University of Newcastle came 12th in the overall tally.

Western Sydney University came 17th and Monash University 18th.

University of the Sunshine Coast came 26th with Griffith University 38th and Queensland University of Technology equal 43rd rounding out the Australian Uni’s in the top 50.


Individual SDG rankings – 4 out of 17 go to Australian universities

Australian universities also topped four of the 17 tables based on individual SDGs.

The University of Sydney was top in SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), the University of Canberra was top in SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), La Trobe on SDG 15 (life on land) and The University of Newcastle was top in SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals).

You can read more about the impact rankings here (you will need to create a login to access the tables):


Photo by Joshua Golde on Unsplash

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