Higher education and Sustainable Development Goals during COVID-19: coping strategies of a university in Wuhan, China


Background: It is widely perceived that COVID-19 has significant influence on higher education and also contribution to development including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However there is insufficient evidence about investigations on such influences, especially at micro level.

Design and method: A university located in Wuhan, China, is selected for the case study to explore how COVID-19 affects higher education and how universities’ coping strategies of COVID-19 can contribute to SDGs. The method is an analysis of 32 institutional documents published by the university.

Results: The university in the case study has taken a number of coping strategies of COVID-19, largely in four aspects including medical services, online education, logistic support, and graduate employment promotion. These coping strategies contribute to achieving SDGs, especially SDGs 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 10.

Conclusions: The case study provides micro-level empirical evidence, which supports that appropriate university coping strategies of COVID-19 can contribute to SDGs, even it is widely perceived that the pandemic has brought strong negative impact on higher education and sustainable development. The selection of a university in Wuhan, China, can generate more practical implications, as Wuhan is the first city that experienced the unprecedented lockdown, and China is the first country that reopened university campuses after the lockdown.


UN. Annex: Global indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Work Stat Comm Pertain to 2030 Agenda Sustain Dev [Internet]. 2019;1–21. Available from: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/indicators/Global_Indicator_Framework_after_2019_refinement_Eng.pdf https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/indicators/Global Indicator_Framework_A.RES.71.313_Annex.pdf

Aleixo AM, Azeiteiro UM, Leal S. Are the sustainable development goals being implemented in the Portuguese higher education formative offer? Int J Sustain High Educ. 2020;21(2):336–52. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-04-2019-0150

Leal Filho W, Vargas VR, Salvia AL, Brandli LL, Pallant E, Klavins M, et al. The role of higher education institutions in sustainability initiatives at the local level. J Clean Prod. 2019;233:1004–15. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.06.059

Tandon R, Chakrabarty K. Partnering with Higher Education Institutions for SDG 17: The Role of Higher Education in Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships. Approaches to SDG 17 Partnerships Sustain Dev Goals. 2018;75–85.

Franco I, Saito O, Vaughter P, Whereat J, Kanie N, Takemoto K. Higher education for sustainable development: actioning the global goals in policy, curriculum and practice. Sustain Sci [Internet]. 2019;14(6):1621–42. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0628-4 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0628-4

MUFTAHU M. Higher Education and Covid-19 Pandemic: Matters Arising and the Challenges of Sustaining Academic Programs in Developing African Universities. Int J Educ Res Rev. 2020;417–23. DOI: https://doi.org/10.24331/ijere.776470

QS. Improving your Crisis Managment: How to Future-Proof Your Student Mobility in Times of Crisis. 2020;

Kim H, Krishnan C, Law J, Rounsaville T. COVID-19 and US higher education enrollment: Preparing leaders for fall. McKinsey. 2020;(May).

Marshman I, Larkins F. Modelling Individual Australian Universities Resilience in Managing Overseas Student Revenue Losses from the COVID-19 Pandemic. 2020;(May). Available from: https://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/lh-martin-institute/insights/modelling-individual-australian-universities-resilience-in-managing-overseas-student-revenue-losses-from-the-covid-19-pandemic

Illanes P, Sarakatsannis J, Mendy A, Law J, Sanghvi S. Coronavirus and the campus: How can US higher education organize to respond? McKinsey Insights. 2020;(March):2020.

Lewin KM. Contingent reflections on coronavirus and priorities for educational planning and development. Prospects [Internet]. 2020;(0123456789). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09480-3 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09480-3

Chabbott C, Sinclair M. SDG 4 and the COVID-19 emergency: Textbooks, tutoring, and teachers. Prospects [Internet]. 2020;(0123456789). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09485-y DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09485-y

Vlachopoulos D. Covid-19: Threat or opportunity for online education? High Learn Res Commun. 2020;10(1):16–9.

Sansa AN. Electronic Research Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities ISSN: 2706 – 8242 www.eresearchjournal.com Vol 2: Issue I Jan – Mar 2020. Electron Res J Soc Sci Humanit. 2020;2(I):168–72.

Iyengar R. Education as the path to a sustainable recovery from COVID-19. Prospects [Internet]. 2020;(0123456789):3–6. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09488-9 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09488-9

Lopes H, McKay V. Adult learning and education as a tool to contain pandemics: The COVID-19 experience. Int Rev Educ [Internet]. 2020;(0123456789). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-020-09843-0 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-020-09843-0

d’Orville H. COVID-19 causes unprecedented educational disruption: Is there a road towards a new normal? Prospects [Internet]. 2020;(0123456789). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09475-0 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09475-0

ZUEL. No Title [Internet]. About ZUEL. 2020. Available from: http://wap.zuel.edu.cn/about/

Liu S. Wages, family background, on-campus performance and gender: an investigation of Chinese graduates’ first job salaries. University of Oxford; 2014.

Liu B, Li Y. Opportunities and Barriers: Gendered Reality in Chinese Higher Education. Front Educ China [Internet]. 2010;5(2):197–221. Available from: https://brill.com/view/journals/fedc/5/2/article-p197_4.xml DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11516-010-0014-1

Long J, Liu T-Q, Liao Y-H, Qi C, He H-Y, Chen S-B, et al. Prevalence and correlates of problematic smartphone use in a large random sample of Chinese undergraduates. BMC Psychiatry. 2016;16. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-016-1083-3

Erlingsson C, Brysiewicz P. A hands-on guide to doing content analysis. African J Emerg Med [Internet]. 2017;7(3):93–9. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.afjem.2017.08.001 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.afjem.2017.08.001

Huang R. The Chinese Experience in Maintaining Undisrupted Learning in COVID-19 Outbreak. Handb Facil Flex Learn Dur Educ Disrupt [Internet]. 2020;46. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339939064

QS. the Outlook for University Admissions : the Impact of Covid-19. 2021;(June 2020).