Higher education and the Sustainable Development Goals

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, SDG4 is dedicated to education. Higher education is mentioned in target 4.3 of SDG4 which aims to “By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.”

Higher education also forms an important part of other goals related to poverty (SDG1); health and well-being (SDG3); gender equality (SDG5) governance; decent work and economic growth (SDG8); responsible consumption and production (SDG12); climate change (SDG13); and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG16).

The roadmap for SDG4, the Education 2030 Framework for Action (FFA), has two central policy pillars which focus on monitoring and improving learning outcomes and those who are excluded.

The FFA calls for progress regarding existing international agreements in favour of higher education and recognizes that a well-established and well-regulated tertiary education system can improve access, equity, quality and relevance. It can also reduce the dissonance between what is taught and what needs to be learned to ensure sustainable development and take advantage of technology, open educational resources and distance education.

Target 4.3 is officially monitored by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics through the indicator “gross enrolment ratio for tertiary education”. At the same time, UNESCO is developing initiatives at regional and national levels and working in close cooperation with donors, Member States and stakeholders, to address quality enhancement, internationalization and digital education. 

UNESCO considers equity an integral part of quality education and recognizes the efforts made by countries in this regard and that renewed efforts are needed to strengthen well-informed higher education systems, based on strong normative instruments and institutions with a focus on access for all.