THE United Nations Academic Impact (Unai) is an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in supporting and contributing to the realisation of United Nations goals and mandates, including the promotion and protection of human rights, access to education, sustainability and conflict resolution.
Universities that are Unai members serve as incubators of new ideas and inventions as well as solutions to the many global challenges humanity currently confronts. Their efforts are vital towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Unai website (at academicimpact.un.org/) lists three Malaysian universities as members: Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Putra Malaysia and Taylor’s University.
UM’s Zero Waste Campaign has been highlighted on the Unai website (bit.ly/um_zero), and it certainly deserves praise as this programme enhances the capabilities of local communities – specifically, in this case, the residents of the Pantai Dalam area – to develop sustainable waste management systems, including communal composting.
In addition to the Unai, there are also four university-based Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (or RCEs) in Malaysia, out of a network of close to 170 universities globally. These RCEs aim to contribute to the realisation of the SDGs by using approaches that translate global objectives into the context of the local communities in which they operate. The RCEs also emphasise harnessing the capabilities of youth and empowering them to be the driving force for its initiatives.
For example, the RCE Kuching found in UCSI University’s Kuching campus works on four SDG aims: Quality education, clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, and life on land. This RCE’s focus area and projects are concentrated in and around the main water source for Kuching: the Sarawak River Kiri. It aims to engage with all sectors in society, especially youth, to raise the sustainability literacy of the rural and urban communities of Kuching.
Coincidentally, UM also hosts an RCE known as RCE Central Semenanjung which is based in Fraser’s Hill, Pahang. The other two RCEs are RCE Iskandar in Johor which covers the entire Iskandar Malaysia region, and RCE Penang which is largely run out of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
Our universities are incubators of youth and the place where youth strive to develop their capabilities so they can later face the challenges of the outside world. Today, it is no longer enough to worry about having a good job and fulfilling other personal goals, while grave threats such as climate change, nuclear weapons and poverty loom over us like a sword of Damocles.
Malaysian universities that are part of Unai and those that host RCEs should forge closer cooperation towards achieving the SDGs, and harness the combined abilities of the students – this will help our country make a great impact, or dare I say, punch above our weight, in terms of realising a peaceful, just and sustainable world.
The power of youth knows no bounds. By harnessing the innate capabilities of youth, we can turn them away from being trapped by gloomy trends and instead direct their energy towards creating a world that they want to live in through their own efforts.
Certainly, our universities can play a role in that. If the Malaysian universities that are already part of the Unai and RCE networks can work together to realise greater synergies and substantive results, not only will it benefit the country, but it will also help to create a better world.
Further, the success of these universities will definitely encourage other universities in our nation to also think about being part of the Unai, RCEs and other networks aimed at achieving the SDGs.
Our universities can also forge partnerships with universities in neighbouring countries, which will yield even greater results for humanity.
Out of the 168 RCEs worldwide, some 70 are located in the Asia-Pacific region, including in Indonesia, Japan, India, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, all of whom are our close neighbours and with whom we enjoy good relations.
Having more Malaysian universities becoming Unai members and increasing the cooperation between them will help our youth expand their outlook and capabilities.
Malaysian universities’ active involvement in the Unai and RCE initiatives will not only benefit local communities as a whole, it will also inspire universities in other countries in the region to be more active themselves. This can only bode well for our region.
The private and public sectors should look at further encouraging our universities to be part of the Unai network, and also support endeavours to develop more RCEs in Malaysia. The active involvement of youth and their taking leadership in these initiatives will be crucial in ensuring the achievement of the SDGs.
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