Times Higher Education – one of the world’s leading publications on universities – recently released its inaugural University Impact Rankings based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. York University did very well, coming in fifth in Canada and 26th in the world on a list highlighting how the higher education sector is contributing to international efforts to build a more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable world.
The University did even better on individual indicators measuring our ability to build sustainable cities and communities (12th in the world) and deliver on climate action (14th in the world).
I am especially pleased that York performed so well in these two categories because they represent the urgent societal challenges that universities are ideally positioned to address. As institutions, we have the capacity to bring together experts, community leaders, policy-makers, and leaders in the public and private sectors to tackle tough issues like climate change, poverty, accessible health care and sustainable growth.
A powerful example of this type of multisector collaboration at York is the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab (MtS), jointly led by York Professor Stephen Gaetz, head of York’s Homeless Hub, and the non-profit A Way Home Canada. This important project reimagines the way we approach youth homelessness through social innovation. It is a multi-year collaborative initiative with stakeholders spanning the national, provincial, Indigenous and local levels of government as well as the public, private and non-profit spheres. Significantly, Professor Gaetz and his team are advised by youth who themselves have been homeless.
I believe that York’s historical strengths and our vision to provide access to a high-quality and research-intensive university dedicated to the public good are uniquely aligned with the future demands that will be placed on universities. Large, multisector and community-connected research projects like MtS are one way that York maximizes our impact. But we also need to respond to emerging educational needs.
In the global knowledge economy, most new jobs will require a post-secondary credential. Up to 70 per cent of jobs that exist today will be disrupted by automation and artificial intelligence. We need to strengthen resiliency and adaptability in students – and the workforce in general – by instilling the knowledge and transferable skills needed for success in a rapidly changing world, and providing effective and flexible pathways for lifelong learning.
In response, York is focused on creating more experiential learning opportunities for our students, bridging their learning from the classroom to the workplace. We have created innovative new programs, like the new Dev Degree with Canadian tech leader Shopify. We are also growing our School of Continuing Studies to make sure we offer the credentials that allow lifelong learners to upskill and reskill as the economy changes. Like our multisector research, our pedagogical innovation is rooted in collaboration and partnership beyond the walls of the University.
By expanding multisector collaboration and educational flexibility, we are strengthening York’s vision for progressive and inclusive educational excellence. We view this work as not only an exciting opportunity, but a central part of our responsibility to the communities we serve.