Supporting the SDGs through teaching & learning at UNSW Business School


This Member Spotlight highlights UNSW Business School in Australia, its dedication to sustainability and its approach to integrating the SDGs throughout all areas of the school. Many thanks to Michele Roberts, Associate Professor, AGSM Academic Director and Faculty Representative on the UNSW SDG Committee, for her contribution. 

During the recent EFMD programme on ‘Mainstreaming the SDGs in Business Schools‘, we learnt that universities play a critical role in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that what we choose to research and teach has a significant influence on the world’s progress towards the SDGs. During the course, I presented the UNSW Business School’s approach to implementing SDGs in Education, and this is how this blog came about. Next, I provide a snapshot of what we are doing at UNSW Business School to advance the SDGs in our education programmes and student experience. Our recently published PRME Report provides a deeper dive into our approach.

Aligning to strategy

Aligning our SDG priorities and plans to our university’s strategy ensured that we had strong support and prioritisation for our goals. UNSW has established a university-wide SDG Steering Committee and developed a three-year ‘Sustainability Matters’ plan, which laid a path for us to follow and allowed us to work together across faculties. This multidisciplinary approach is critical to achieving the SDGs – while all schools have a role to play, we need to work across disciplines and overcome siloes to achieve the SDGs. The university has also created significant resources for us, such as an SDG Toolkit to integrate sustainability into education and an SDG website.

Mapping material issues

We began by mapping our material issues related to the SDGs across teaching, research, operations, governance, and external engagement. Initially, this was a manual and very time-consuming process, but well worth it to gain early insights into our strengths and opportunities. We have now been able to map the SDGs through an automated method of scanning Course Outlines and Course Descriptions with over 80% accuracy. We have similar success mapping our research and have begun to map our academics and their interests to the SDGs. We are also tagging our media items.

Harnessing existing structures

We quickly built momentum by leveraging existing governance structures at the school. We began with the SDGs reporting to our existing UNSW and Business School EDI Committees, which provided a strong organising structure and an army of experienced supporters without spending time and resources creating something new. In our second year, we have spun out an SDG Working Group at the Business School, leveraging the same structure, Terms of Reference, administrative support and expertise of our thriving EDI Committee.

We were also able to harness our Academic Review Process to accelerate the process of embedding SDGs in programmes and courses. We amended the Terms of Reference of our Academic Review Process to include a requirement that all new and revised programmes integrate SDGs in core courses, and that this is communicated to teaching staff and students through the achievement of specific Course and Program Learning Outcomes.

Prioritising for impact

We focussed on our largest undergraduate programme first to ensure we reached the maximum number of students as quickly as possible. For us, this meant embedding SDGs in the first year of our Bachelor of Commerce programme. Three new, integrated first-year courses combine ethics, corporate responsibility, and sustainability into the curriculum. 4,000 students have already completed these three courses in their first year, and an SDG Bootcamp complements this at Orientation.

Our MBA programmes have also integrated SDGs, with a whole programme entitled ‘Responsible Management Curriculum’, including a pre-MBA module and a ‘Responsible Management in Context’ primer in the first week of all core courses, and the opportunity for students to become an AGSM Fellow of Responsible Management (see below). We are also launching an MBA Indigenous Immersion capstone this year.

UNSW AGSM's curriculum

AGSM’s Responsible Management Curriculum

In addition, we have reshaped Executive Education to assist organisational leaders to deliver ESGs. We have developed several courses designed to upskill leaders in the for-purpose sector, including ‘Governance for Social Impact’, delivered in partnership with our Centre for Social Impact, and our EFMD award-winning Emerging Indigenous Executive Leaders Program, a nine-month program designed to accelerate the careers of early-career Indigenous leaders.

UNSW AGSM indigenous leaders programme

AGSM’s award-winning Emerging Indigenous Executive Leaders Program*

Engaging our students

We offer students a range of electives aligned to the SDGs – including our ‘Sustainable and Responsible Investing’ course, which won a 2021 Aspen Institute Ideas Worth Teaching Award. The greatest impact has come from offering students Work Integrated Learning electives aligned to the SDGs. These ‘Practicums with Purpose’ allow students to work on complex, multidisciplinary, real-world problems. Our most successful Work Integrated Learning initiative has been the Tax Clinic. The Clinic provides access to free, independent, and confidential tax advice for individuals and small business owners in severe financial distress. It offers year-round work-related learning to students enrolled in their final year undergraduate / postgraduate courses as a teaching clinic. The students help financially distressed clients with tax problems (under the supervision of registered tax agents), design and deliver community rights-based education initiatives and assist with research and advocacy to address systemic injustice within the tax-transfer system. Through partnerships with financial counsellors, crisis support, domestic violence support and pro-bono legal clinics, the Clinic has supported over 200 clients.

UNSW tax clinic

Profile of Clients who are supported by the UNSW Tax Clinic

UNSW Business School has been an EFMD member since 2007. The school has been EQUIS accredited since 2010. In 2020, the school received an Excellence in Practice Silver Award, along with Elevate RAP Working Group, in the Talent Development category. Learn more about our Member Spotlight series here. If you are interested in participating in the Member Spotlight, please contact us.

*Photo source: AGSM @ UNSW Business School