In 2015, the United Nations formally proposed the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” during the Sustainable Development Summit, setting forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. Today, as we reach the midpoint of the implementation of the agenda, the future of humanity and the planet seems to face even more daunting challenges. The consequences caused by climate change are becoming increasingly evident on a global scale, while the gradual erosion of biodiversity and persistent issues such as armed conflicts, widening wealth disparities and the uncertain effects of AI to society and education have emerged as formidable destabilizing factors.
As a major driver for sustainable development, higher education is not only a core component of said sustainable development, but also the central pillar to achieving all Sustainable Development Goals. Looking forward, paradigms of higher education must undergo a thorough transformation: we must move from advocating for anthropocentric social justice to ecological justice, from promoting individual subjectivity to returning to the essence of symbiosis and coexistence between human subjects and nature itself, human subjects and society, from the dichotomy of human subjects and the world to the unity of human subjects and the world, from learning as means of changing the world to learning as means for integrating into the world. All these changes have posed new challenges to talent cultivation, scientific research, social service, application of information technology, organization and governance, international exchange and cooperation, strategic planning, and other aspects of higher education.
China has long been rooted in a cultural tradition that emphasizes our non-dualist relationship with nature, as reflected in traditional idioms like “天人合一” (unity of man and nature) and “仁民爱物” (compassion towards all beings). The Confucian school of thought, which centers its educational philosophy around “修身” (self-cultivation), regards the concept of “万物合一” (universal unity) as the ultimate attainment. These philosophical concepts and traditions offer valuable intellectual resources for ecological justice that transcends the dichotomy between humans and nature. In alignment with the proposed vision of a “community with a shared future for mankind", China has put forth global development initiatives and is actively advocating for actions such as carbon peaking and carbon neutrality. In doing so, China has been contributing its own wisdom and approaches to the worldwide pursuit of sustainable development goals. At the forefront of this movement, Tsinghua University stands as the pioneer among Chinese universities to promote “Green University Initiatives”. Guided by principles of openness, integration, resilience, and sustainability, Tsinghua University has established several initiatives to facilitate the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in recent years, including the Institute for Sustainable Development, the University Climate Change Coalition, the Carbon Neutrality Research Institute, among others.
Higher education not only plays a crucial role as a driving force for achieving sustainable development, but also is a source of innovation of sustainability. The current 2nd Tsinghua Higher Education Forum, grounded in a Chinese context while embracing a global outlook, adopts the theme of “Higher Education for Sustainable Development: Global Perspectives and Practices”. The forum serves as an invitation to researchers and practitioners worldwide to explore the future possibilities of promoting sustainable development through higher education. The main objective of the forum is to inspire higher education institutions to reconsider the future of humanity and the planet, draw strength from diverse ideas, cultures, and knowledge, and take action to create a more sustainable future.
Forum 1: Higher Education for Sustainable Development: Ideas, Knowledge, and Ethics
To achieve the goals of sustainable development, it is imperative to explore novel perceptions of knowledge and education that moves from advocating for anthropocentric social justice to ecological justice, from the dichotomy of human subjects and the world to the unity of human subjects and the world, from learning as means of changing the world to learning as means for integrating into the world. In light of these profound transformations, this sub-forum prompts us to ponder upon the alterations that should be enacted within in higher education: What kind of changes should be made to paradigms of higher education? How should curriculum design, teaching methods, scientific research, etc. undergo transformation?
Forum 2: Building World-class Universities for Sustainable Development
World-class universities serve as the cradle for nurturing top-notch innovative talents, acting as the primary fountainhead of novel innovation, propelling technological breakthroughs, thus play a crucial role in advancing global sustainable development. On one hand, universities cultivate visionary and forward-thinking scholars, imbued with a sustainable development mindset, who in turn contribute to bolstering productivity, eradicating poverty, and promoting the quality of economic growth. Likewise, universities facilitate technological innovation for the achievement of sustainable development goals, such as deploying clean energy solutions and achieving carbon neutrality. This sub-forum aims to engage in a comprehensive discussion regarding the strategies to further harness the capabilities of world-class universities in driving global sustainable development.
Forum 3: Innovation and Sustainability: Engineering Education for the Future
The achievement of sustainable development goals relies on technological and engineering innovations, coupled with the cultivation of a new generation of engineers who perceive sustainable development as a fundamental guiding principle. Integrating a new type of social-technical thinking and tackling complex engineering problems in the endeavor of fulfilling sustainable development goals, therefore, emerges as a pivotal direction for the future innovations and advancements in engineering education. This sub-forum strives to foster the exchange and exploration of educational ideas and teaching innovations that incorporate sustainable development principles, technologies, and professional practices into engineering education.
Youth Forum: Youth Perspectives and Actions for Promoting Education on Sustainable Development
Young people are not only the main drivers of social change, economic growth, and technological innovation, but also the key force in achieving sustainable development goals, as the future world belongs to youth. Higher education can help youth acquire systematic, comprehensive, and practical knowledge about sustainable development, and provide them with opportunities and platforms to engage in educational research and practices regarding sustainable development. This sub-forum will jointly share and discuss the academic perspectives and practical actions of young scholars and students in higher education regarding global sustainable development issues.