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Julia Christensen Hughes Represents YU at UN Forum on Sustainable Development in Higher Education

Julia Christensen Hughes outside UN Headquarters in New York City

Yorkville University’s Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes made an appearance at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City this week, attending a number of events and speaking on a panel at the 2023 HESI Global Forum.

Hosted by the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI), the annual forum acts to highlight the critical role of higher education in achieving the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

UN panel pic

This year’s event, which took place on July 17 during the UN’s High Level Political Forum, placed particular focus on understanding the challenges and opportunities to accelerate the recovery from COVID-19 and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels. 

Christensen Hughes spoke on higher education’s role in achieving those ends during a high-level discussion moderated by Nikhil SethUnited Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Executive Director of UNITAR, and featuring a panel of international university leaders including: 

As President and Vice Chancellor of Canada’s largest private university, Christensen Hughes said that when she reflects on what can be done to embed the sustainable development goals (SDGs) into the DNA of universities, her focus is primarily on teaching and learning.

Julia Christensen Hughes at UN

“When I think about accessibility and teaching and learning, I think about the cost, I think about the curriculum, and I think about the context,” said Christensen Hughes, who also currently sits on one of HESI’s 2023 Action Groups focused on aligning faculty research with the SDGs, through the SDG Publishers Compact.

She then highlighted some of the ways in which Yorkville is making progress in each of those three areas. 


“In terms of cost, last year we introduced a 25 per cent bursary for Indigenous students, and I think that’s something all universities need to be doing – looking at how we can enhance accessibility (to under-represented groups) through the tuition we charge,” she said. 

Yorkville’s Indigenous Student Tuition Bursary is now available to all new and current Indigenous students who are enrolled in any of Yorkville University’s on-campus and online programs.


Yorkville University's Signature Learning Outcomes

With regard to curriculum, Christensen Hughes highlighted Yorkville’s recent establishment of 10 Signature Learning Outcomes, which include: Critical Thinking & Analysis; Creative & Complex Problem Identification; Professional & Ethical Conduct; Global & Cultural Awareness; and Team Dynamics & Collaboration, among others.  

“I’m very passionate about some of the comments we heard earlier about transitioning what we’re teaching, from knowledge to skills and values…and I’m very proud that Yorkville introduced signature learning outcomes last year,” she said. 

“These outcomes apply to all of our programs, undergraduate and graduate, and are skills- and values-focused, with all of our students, for example, being exposed to ethical dilemmas.” 


Lastly, Christensen Hughes touched on context, shining a spotlight on the fact that the majority of Yorkville’s student population consists of women in their 30s studying at the graduate level. 

“I believe there’s a very good reason for that: because we have multiple points of entry throughout the year…they can go three or four semesters year-round, and they can learn from anywhere,” she said. 

“At convocation, students and families come to me with tears in their eyes, saying ‘We could not have pursued this degree if it was not for the delivery mechanism that Yorkville uses.’…I’m just so proud that we’re helping those students pursue their transformational aspirations while never having to leave their communities or families to get that degree.”

HESI Membership

Christensen Hughes’ attendance at the UN was marked by Yorkville University becoming a newly minted member within the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) – a partnership between several United Nations entities and the higher education community, currently chaired by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the Sulitest Association, a non-profit organization and online platform aimed at improving sustainability literacy for university students.

Through its association with the United Nations, HESI aims to provide higher education with an interface between higher education, science, and policy making by raising the profile of higher education’s contributions to sustainable development, convening multi-stakeholder discussions and action, and sharing best practices.

Global Compact: Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) 

Christensen Hughes also participated in the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) event on “Developing Responsible Business Leaders: Creative and Playful Pedagogies to Achieve SDG 4 (Quality Education)”.

Julia Christensen Hughes at UN

She provided an invited address on “Contextualizing SDG 4 for Sustainable Development”, in which she emphasized that quality education underpins the achievement of all the SDGs. Focusing again on the needed shift towards students learning skills and values, she emphasized the benefit of Yorkville’s commitment to small classes, highly engaging learning environments, and supportive relationships between faculty, staff and students.     

“I was really proud to talk about our culture and values, and how much our students credit their success with the care and support they have been provided with here at Yorkville,” she said.

Following that, a panel discussed The Impactful Five (i5): Learning in Leadership Education, an initiative in support of learning across five skill domains: cognitive, emotional, creative, social, and physical. The program, to be implemented by the global network of business schools and universities of PRME, aims to:

  • Make Learning Meaningful
  • Facilitate Active Engagement
  • Design for Iteration
  • Develop Supportive Social Interaction
  • Foster Joy and Well-being

There is the opportunity for Yorkville to become more engaged with PRME in the future.

As well as attending other UN sessions, Christensen Hughes met with Canada’s Consul General, Tom Clark, to discuss potential opportunities for TFS students to participate in development opportunities in New York City. She also attended an event hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, where she had the opportunity to share some of Yorkville’s success with Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, several MPs and UNESCO dignitaries. 

“I was so pleased to be asked to speak at this year’s UN High-Level Political Forum, to share our successes, to further Yorkville’s global network and reputation, and also to learn from others,” said Christensen Hughes. 

“This was the perfect way to mark our newly minted membership in HESI.”

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