Sustainability and making a positive social impact are high on the list of things most of us are looking for in the places we live, work and study.
It’s important to the University of Auckland (UoA) as well, who have retained the number one spot globally in the University Impact Rankings by Times Higher Education (THE).
Retaining number one for the second year in a row reaffirms the university’s commitment to sustainability and making a positive social impact through its partnerships, research, teaching, operations, community engagement and knowledge transfer.
So, what does this mean for Auckland? These results show how UoA and its students are actively improving the wellbeing of Aucklanders and reflects the commitment to a sustainable future for the city and its people.
One area of focus for the university’s marine scientist Dr Jenny Hillman has been marine sustainability and land protection with a project looking at how the detoxification powers of the humble mussel can filter seawater.
Hillman’s research has involved the deployment of 8.2 million mussels in the Hauraki Gulf, which filter 2.4 million litres of seawater every single day and thereby restore the ecosystem.
The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is vitally important to the health of Auckland’s and the Waikato’s ecosystems, covering 1.2 million hectares. Established in 2000, the park protects the natural and historic features of the gulf, as well as wildlife habitat and sites. The marine park is also full of beautiful islands and places to explore, as well as a significant producer of food.
The first mussel restorations occurred in 2013 in the gulf, with efforts increasing over the last four years depending on funding levels. The project has grown rapidly, but its overall aim remains to work out how to successfully restore mussel beds and restore ecosystem functioning.
Mussels help restore ecosystems depleted by over-fishing by efficiently filtering sea water forming stable beds on soft sediments by self-aggregating. This means they have the power to clean the water and trap toxins and sediment on the seafloor rather than in the water column, stabilise the sediment, provide habitat, homes, and shelter to multiple other species of animals.
University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dawn Freshwater said the physical proximity to the oceans and the land in Aotearoa New Zealand means the university often lead the world in unique marine and land-based environmental research projects.
“In these and other areas the university recognises the importance and value of kaitiakitanga and mātauranga Māori in shaping a unique and distinctive approach to sustainability in this country,” she said.
Freshwater said the ranking reflects the world-class outcomes achieved by staff of the University of Auckland.
“The Impact Rankings’ focus on sustainability has become even more relevant as we consider what a post-Covid world might look like, and how this enforced ‘pause’ might be used as an opportunity to reshape economies in more sustainable ways,” she said.
What are the THE rankings?
The rankings measure how universities worldwide are performing against the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were developed in 2016 and set a 15-year agenda for all countries to end poverty, fight inequalities and build peaceful, just and sustainable societies.
The university was first among 850 institutions from 89 countries that participated and was ranked in the top 25% for each of the Goals with which it engaged. Its top four areas for each of the goals were Life Below Water, Life on Land, Good Health and Wellbeing and Partnership for the Goals.