The Arab Universities Initiative (ArabUNi) is part of the World Association for Sustainable Development (WASD) global initiative Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Universities Initiative (SDGsUNi). ArabUNi aims to bring together universities and research institutions from all Arab countries and across the world in a global forum to collaborate and reconnect with the discourse of SD. ArabUNi will therefore help universities and research institutions in Arab countries to play a critical role as recommended by the World Bank’s World Development Report 2016 enabling their countries reap the benefits form the global growth in the knowledge economy particularly for the country’s Digital Natives (Youth).

Since the Rio summit in 1992, Sustainable Development (SD) is becoming increasingly a major concern for both Developed and Developing Countries (DCs). Yet, translating the principles of SD into effective economic and environmental policies seems to be a major challenge for all Arab countries. In the post Covid-19 era of global skills and knowledge race, Arab universities cannot fail to realise, accept and accomplish their natural and ascribed roles (also remotely) as a strategic agent for national development to achieve the United Nations Agenda 2030 and its 17 SDGs. Arab Universities must therefore confront new realities rapidly manifesting themselves in a diversely complex and fast-changing world. Business as usual will not suffice. Arab Universities need to be expansively re-focused in order to become more sensitive and responsive to its mission of developing graduates who, in addition to conventional graduate training, are also able to help their countries achieve the Agenda 2030 and its SDGs.

As knowledge production sites, the university’s engagement in national economic growth and the broader development agenda in its country is nothing new. Ever since the beginning of modern science, knowledge has been sought from the university and today, more than ever before in human history, the wealth or poverty of nations depends on the quality of higher education. Revolutionary breakthroughs in the knowledge economy are leading to remarkable changes in the way forward-looking nations capacitate their graduates. According to UNESCO, universities are not just for teaching purposes, but also contribute through research in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and in the social and human sciences, to the advance of knowledge, to the creation of new knowledge, to cultural development and fulfilment, to the solving of the problems with which the society is faced, to SD.

ArabUNi aims to critically examine a number of issues relating to the role and relevance of universities and research institutions to the contemporary discourse of Arab’s sustainable inclusive knowledge-based development such as the role of universities in supporting and enhancing the process of economic and social development in Arab countries; identify all major obstacles that Arab universities face in their countries including any governments components and most importantly how can these obstacles best be overcome; and what is the new role(s) of the Arab universities in the post Covid-19 era.

Whilst there has been a tremendous growth in size, the expansion of higher education (HE) in most Arab countries and the rest of the world, serious evaluation must be undertaken of the quality of teaching, research and development (R&D) and how Arab universities are meeting the emergent development needs. What is evident in most Arab countries is a stupendous replication of traditional disciplinary-based techniques of knowledge production. These have, nevertheless, increased the richness of knowledge about the universe we live in but without apparently translating or transforming the catchment societal environments in terms of measurable productive capacities.

There are also grave concerns that HE in most Arab countries is becoming increasingly obsolete which, in part, is why development programmes are stultified even from the outset. There are also serious issues regarding the under-performance in research – state of academic research is less-than-satisfactory in almost all universities in Arab countries. Therefore, universities, particularly in Arab, must confront the ‘new realities’ evident in the environments in which they operate. Many scholars and policy makers have called for a transformative innovation agenda which embraces radical change for new synthesis and approaches for transforming universities’ role in achieving the SDGs in their countries.

ArabUNi also aims to improve the research within Arab universities to help achieve Agenda 2030 and SDGs by addressing the significant demand for evidence-based research across the world. ArabUNi is therefore aims to provide practical recommendations and actions to help transform the way Arab universities conduct and use research to achieve the SDGs, and the way Arab universities access and benefit from the global data freely available for use by leading international organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, etc.

ArabUNi will work closely with Arab universities to address the following key issues in their contribution to their countries’ efforts to achieve the Agenda 2030 and its SDGs.

  • how Arab universities see the role of STI in service of the 2030 Agenda?
  • how do Arab universities reflect the SDGs in their own research activities?
  • do Arab universities believe that the HE system in their countries is properly using scientific research in finding solutions to the country’s problems?