Sustainable Development Goals: A Case Study of Democratic Education Network at the University of Westminster 


Sustainable Development is significant for humanity but not at the cost of depletion of natural resources or harming individuals and the planet. As the world is interdependent, any problem in one part of the world could immediately have consequences for the rest. COVID-19 is an example of how the emergence of a disease in one part of the world suddenly impacted the rest. The United Nations (UN) attempts to address these problems globally. 

At the 1992 Earth Summit, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), sustainable development emerged as significant for individual nations, organizations and institutions to follow. As a result, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) became a worldwide initiative to address sustainability issues. 

Initially developed by the United Nations member states, the 17 goals represent an urgent call for action and partnership to achieve peace and prosperity for both the global population and the environment. The goals aim to address three main areas: environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability.

This short article assesses how the Democratic/staff network in an instantiation such as the University of Westminster meets SDG’s goals. Initially, I decided to work on this paper for the “1st International Academic Conference on the SDGs: Why It Matters.” But on the second day of the conference, which is focused on students. 

I have now developed it into a short article for Democratic Education Network’s ( DEN) online magazine. The paper will briefly examine United Nations Development Goals for 2031 and then focus on the University of Westminster and DEN. Finally, I provide recommendations for the University and DEN on how we can develop the SDGs locally and globally.  

Environmental Sustainability:

Environmental stability is so significant that most people associate the SDGs. Of course, many goals overlap in their focus, but environmental stability is directly related to 8 of the 17 goals, which are: Goal 6: Clean Water & Sanitation; Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy; Goal 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities; Goal 12: Responsible Consumption & Production; Goal 13: Climate Action; Goal 14: Life Under Water; Goal 15: Life on Land; Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals. 

Social Sustainability:

Social stability’s primary focus is the well-being of the global population – which is highlighted as particularly important considering that a well-educated, healthy and prosperous population will be better able to maintain environmental and economic stability standards. As a result, 6 of the 17 SDGs are linked to improving conditions of social sustainability: Goal 3: Good Health &Well-Being; Goal 4: Quality Education;  Goal 5: Gender Equality; Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities; Goal 16: Peace, Justice &Strong Institutions; Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals. 

Economic Sustainability:

The aim of economic stability brings the purpose of the other two aims together – as a steady global economy can ensure that positive progress is made with both environmental stability and social stability. Environmental goals can be more easily achieved when the conditions are stable, and in a capitalist economy, social stability can rise with better economic standing. Although some overlap, there are 5 of the 17 goals are highlighted under the heading of economic stability:  Goal 1: No Poverty; Goal 2: Zero Hunger; Goal 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth; Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals

Working towards the 2030 Sustainability Agenda is not just UN-focused, as many organizations can undertake progressive and positive projects. The SDGs provide a framework for local initiatives, educational institutions, NGOs and businesses to help them recognize which goals they are making good progress with and which require some attention. This tool also encourages the recognition of secondary progress as the overlapping of goals may show that a project created to address one particular purpose has also achieved progress in another – or alternatively, to recognize downfalls in the implementation. Overall, the SDGs represent a greener and more prosperous future for everyone and should be used as an aid to achieving this goal. 

The University of Westminster and Sustainable Development Goals 

The University of Westminster in the heart of London has more than 19,000 undergraduates, postgraduate and professional students. The University promotes

sustainability knowledge among students and staff, including social, environmental, governance and energy use. It hopes to lead the sustainability transition within the institution. 

The University is proud of having the most diverse students in the world, representing 169 nationalities with 8,429 international students. In 2016 the University of Westminster was named the most diverse institution in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand. 

Diversity, inclusion and equality of opportunity are fundamental to the University’s strategy. Hence, the University is committed to caring for the students, staff, and communities within London. 

The University has adopted the SDGs’ framework to support its core social mission and to record, measure and improve its contribution to various social, environmental and economic outcomes. 

In 2022 the University University of Westminster was recognized as one of the top 15% out of over 1400 universities in the world for its work on contributing to the United Nations’ 17 SDGs, according to the newly published Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022. 

Democratic Education Network

DEN was launched in 2016 at the University of Westminster, attempting to encourage students to work collaboratively with academics and support staff to achieve sustainability goals. The main focus for DEN is extracurricular, where students take the lead, with academic support, on projects that spark their interests. 

In addition, the network successfully brings together students from various disciplinary backgrounds whilst also allowing current students to continue learning from postgraduate students and alums.

As students from diverse communities, they are encouraged to build a bridge between their communities and DEN. Hence, DEN has promoted students working with their communities and others, highlighting environmental and social SDGs. An excellent example of this is student-initiated engagement with local communities, including the Students4Refugees initiative, which held fundraising events and awareness campaigns on the refugee crises. Whilst making connections with local refugees and the organizations that help the refugees to settle in London. In addition to this, DEN lent its support to Hopetowns Community in London, which provided unemployed refugees in London with valuable employment skills sessions.

Students’ role has also been crucial to developing a link to their schools, where they have studied before. Hence, they, alongside an academic, have returned to their colleges and schools to support students and enlighten them about SDGs. 

Internationally, DEN has developed and consolidated its links with international partners. These range from London universities to further afield, such as Peru, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan. The partnership between universities contributes to DEN projects, and there are opportunities to enjoy cultural exchange – notably, this summer, DEN funded a group of students to meet with students in Vietnam with whom they had worked throughout the year. The field trip to Vietnam includes attending UN headquarters workshops focusing on SDGs. 

Finally, active engagement within DEN provides students with Knowledge exchange and employability skills enhancement opportunities in varied sectors. Throughout the year, flexible internships are available within the network, allowing students to develop their employment skills and help to level the playing field when they are looking for graduate positions post-university. 

The different projects conducted throughout the year mean that students can develop varied skills which would not be part of their curriculum – mainly editorial and peer-reviewing skills. In addition, DEN’s online platform allows students to write on various subjects, including SDGs, where this article will be published. 

These articles are curated, developed and edited by the students under the supervision of academics and publishers. The short article will be published in a hard copy magazine and the longer one in DEN’s annual book. 

With students’ engagement with their communities and international partners, DEN hops encourage discussion on the importance of sustainability for all. 

The University values this as DEN, and Quintin Hogg Trust supports the project. However, the University needs to use the model in other courses. DEN needs to broaden its appeal by integrating more modules into different projects. It can also provide credits for the student’s work and collaboration with various projects. 

Esme Bartholomew

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