by Ngọc Anh Nguyễn / 10 minutes read

What is the role of higher education institutions today?

The 2030 Agenda's key driver is education. In order to address local, national, regional, and international concerns, higher education institutions (HEIs), which include universities and colleges worldwide, train future professionals, carry out significant research, and collaborate with the public and stakeholders. These HEIs are leading the charge in developing the solutions necessary to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, highlighting the crucial role that education plays in fostering inclusive and healthy societies as envisioned by the 2030 Agenda.

What are higher education institutions?

Definition of higher education institutions

After you graduate from high school, higher education is third-level education. It takes place at colleges and universities and typically entails both undergraduate and graduate study. Your chances of finding a career and increasing your earning potential through higher education are increased.

Higher-educational institutions include not only universities and colleges but also a variety of professional schools that offer training in fields such as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art. Higher education also includes teacher-training schools, junior colleges, and technological institutes. Completing secondary education is the basic entry requirement for most higher-education institutions, and the typical entrance age is around 18 years.

Categories of higher education institutions

The Higher Education Act (Act 101 of 1997, as amended) (the Act) defines three types of higher education institutions: higher education colleges, university colleges, and universities.

Definition of higher education institutions (Source: Internet)
Definition of higher education institutions (Source: Internet)

Key issues that higher education institutions face

Education is critical to creating the sustainable world that we are working tirelessly to create. It is a powerful tool for changing people's knowledge, progressive attitudes, values, goals, and skills worldwide. We all come into the world knowing nothing. To find our way in life, we rely on what we see, read, and are told to do.

To a large extent, today's wrong attitudes, goals, and actions exist because people are ignorant of the truth or have been negatively educated. As a result, the key to global change and sustainable development is passing on the necessary knowledge to future generations. Every form of education, formal and informal, has a role to play in addressing the challenges we face today.

Here are some global challenges that higher education institutions contribute to solving:

Poverty Reduction

Generations of people from every culture, race, country, and continent have faced and continue to face poverty. Higher education provides knowledge, ideas, and skills that improve employability, critical thinking, creativity, and innovativeness, allowing students to identify and solve problems and launch legitimate, income-generating, and long-term businesses. Higher education enables people to choose a career path and make wise financial decisions.

All else being equal, quality education should reduce poverty to a bare minimum. However, this is not the case; higher education is generally out of reach for the average person. Some graduates are still ill-prepared for today's rapidly changing workplace, which can only mean that our higher education system needs to be overhauled.

Generations of people from every culture, race, country, and continent have faced and continue to face poverty (Source: Internet)
Generations of people from every culture, race, country, and continent have faced and continue to face poverty (Source: Internet)

Equality, Inclusion and diversity

Gone are the days when gender, race, ethnicity, tribe, and other biases limited certain people's opportunities. Everyone should have equal access to a good education, as well as professional, political, and religious representation. Many universities have begun to look for novel ways to increase access to higher education for people from underrepresented groups. Some institutions provide merit-based funding to international students in order to foster a culturally diverse learning environment.

Students are now admitted to programs regardless of their special needs/disabilities, race, culture, gender, or other factors, and staff is being trained to be non-discriminatory. Combating inequality, diversity, and inclusiveness is an ongoing process; it is expected that more schools will adopt more practical measures that promote positive change.

Malnutrition and starvation

Hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity have reached epidemic proportions. According to research, there is a strong positive relationship between hunger, food security, and education. Advanced agricultural techniques for higher yield, storage, preservation, and processing practices, as well as research opportunities, are available at higher education institutions. These policies increase the availability, supply, and accessibility of food.

Furthermore, educated parents make better and more informed decisions about their children's diets. Individuals with a higher level of education can easily choose between alternative food sources to meet their nutrient needs. As a result, universities and other higher education institutions play an important role in sustainable food production and consumption.

According to research, there is a strong positive relationship between hunger, food security, and education (Source: Internet)
According to research, there is a strong positive relationship between hunger, food security, and education (Source: Internet)

Climate change

Many higher education institutions have taken the lead and fostered/embraced climate change mitigation strategies. Some universities and colleges have begun to contribute through research, student education, operational activities, and community engagement. Unfortunately, preaching is one thing; practicing is quite another. Are all defaulters without a degree? How far have universities gone to incorporate climate change values into their actions?

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges for higher education institutions (Source: Internet)
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges for higher education institutions (Source: Internet)

Security and safety

Education is the missing piece in our efforts to achieve long-term peace, safety, and security. Higher education is one of the proactive measures that we can use to reduce interpersonal conflict. Peace education, whether as a separate or integrated course, aims to promote positive change. It includes threat education, as well as raising citizens' awareness of their rights, virtues, altruism, tolerance, and obligation. It aids in the regulation of people's behavior, cognition, and threat response. The goal is to promote international peace, security, and stability. A well-structured higher education program on peace and security will also go a long way toward preventing global violence, insecurity, and conflicts.

What is the role of higher education institutions today?

We know about the challenges that higher education institutions have to face. So what is the role of higher education institutions today? 

Higher education's role in long-term economic and social development grows year after year, and this trend will continue in the coming decades. It is viewed as a means to improve people's lives and address major social and global issues. Higher education is widely regarded as a key driver of economic performance, prosperity, and competitiveness. According to UNESCO, its social role bridges the gap between universities' intellectual and educational missions on the one hand and societal development on the other.

Developing a skilled workforce

Higher education allows a person to succeed in today's global economy. Modern universities offer their students a variety of programs aimed at preparing them for various economic sectors, assisting them to stay and progress in the labor market for an extended period of time, programs that make a difference in labor market outcomes and keep pace with changes in the global economy and the innovation process. Universities encourage lifelong learning and provide opportunities for professionals to engage in training and professional development.

Higher education allows a person to succeed in today's global economy (Source: Internet)
Higher education allows a person to succeed in today's global economy (Source: Internet)

Providing support to business and industry

Over the last decade, the business has evolved; dynamic processes occur in a variety of contexts and landscapes. There are many jobs available today that did not exist several decades ago. Work is changing as a result of technological advancements. According to a 2017 McKinsey report, existing technologies could automate 49 percent of time spent on work activities worldwide. Employee skill requirements have also changed. Higher education institutions ensure the relevance of their knowledge, identify skill gaps, develop special programs, and build the right skills to help countries improve the economic prosperity and social cohesion, adapt workforce development to the economy and changing demand for new skills, develop relevant skills, and activate skill supply.

Encourage students to think critically

The literature on education for sustainable development (ESD) emphasizes the importance of teaching students to critically evaluate relevant information, to think critically, to cultivate flexible and adaptive practices, and to expose them to applied experimentation. In higher education, various dimensions of sustainability are emerging for teaching university students to contribute to making solutions.

Higher education institutions encourage students to think critically (Source: Internet)
Higher education institutions encourage students to think critically (Source: Internet)

Providing guidance

Higher education institutions bear the societal responsibility of advising students, faculty, staff, and administration (Viebahn, 2002; Bantanur et al., 2015), and their decisions have an impact on the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of the communities and regions in which they operate (Katiliute et al., 2014). Universities are regarded as important contributors to the promotion of sustainability and the pursuit of regional sustainability (Karatzoglou, 2013). Sustainability integration can range from policy statement formulation to curriculum integration, green campus activities, and signature on international charters or declarations (Lozano et al., 2013b; Sammalisto and Lindhqvist, 2008).

Conducting research and promoting technology

What is the role of higher education institutions today? Higher education is a driver of technology and innovation. One of the missions of modern universities is to solve big problems and conduct research in global priority areas, thereby contributing to social outcomes such as health and social engagement. It is frequently aimed at developing technologies that result in new products and providing advanced technology for use.

Knowledge is the true foundation of higher education: it is created through research, transmitted through teaching, and acquired and used by students. As a result, excellence must remain the primary goal of any institution of higher learning, including universities in any country. 

Higher education is a driver of technology and innovation (Source: Internet)
Higher education is a driver of technology and innovation (Source: Internet)


Education is a wise investment that outperforms the cost of interventions. To be effective, education must be accessible, comprehensive, and practical. Higher education can be viewed as a focal point of knowledge and its application, an institution that contributes significantly to economic growth and development by encouraging innovation and increasing higher skills. 

Higher education must now maintain a proactive stance in order to realize its full potential, strengthen its position as a bedrock upon which countries are built, and pave a new path to growth. It must not be passive.

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Ngọc Anh Nguyễn

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Since my major in university is Marketing, I always grasp the chance to improve my skills to become an all-rounded Marketer in the future. This job, to some extent, has brought me a lot of knowledge about multiple areas, which will be beneficial to my study career. In my free time, I'm into reading and watching classic movies. My favorite genre of all time is romantic comedy.

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