University ranked among world’s top 25 – and 1st for marine – in Times Higher Education Impact Rankings

The University of Plymouth has been named as one of the top 25 institutions globally in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021.

The rankings, released today, are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In its first appearance in the tables, Plymouth has been ranked 23rd of more than 1,100 universities, reinforcing its reputation for world-leading and award-winning sustainability research and teaching.

It also achieved considerable worldwide success in a number of individual tables linked to specific SDGs:

  • 1st globally in relation to SDG 14: Life Below Water, recognising the quality of the University’s marine research and teaching as well as its efforts to reduce the impact of campus activities on the marine environment;
  • 9th worldwide in relation to SDG 17: partnerships for the goals, for its efforts to support the SDGs through collaboration with other countries, the promotion of best practices and the publication of data;
  • 19th in the world in SDG 2: Zero Hunger, recognising its research on hunger, its teaching on food sustainability and its commitment to tackle food waste and address hunger among students and local communities;
  • In the top 50 globally for its work linked to SDG 7: affordable and clean energy and SDG 11: sustainable cities and communities.


Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Plymouth, is one of four sector leaders heading up a Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education Leaders. She said:

“This is an outstanding achievement and a ringing endorsement of our excellence in all aspects of sustainability.

At a time when climate change is at the forefront of people’s minds, particularly with the UK hosting the G7 summit and COP26 in 2021, this global endorsement will support our efforts to ensure our work and knowledge continue to have both impact and influence.

This ranking celebrates decades of building on our core strengths, investing in research teams and facilities and, in particular, it reinforces our leadership in all things marine and rightfully positions us at the global forefront of this field.

It acknowledges our long-standing partnerships with industry and academia, and our long-standing commitment to use our own sustainability practices to inspire change on a local, regional, and international scale.”

Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Plymouth

Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Plymouth

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings use carefully calibrated indicators to provide comprehensive and balanced comparisons across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach and teaching.

Universities can submit data on as many of the 17 SDGs as they are able, and any university that provides data on SDG 17 and at least three others is included in the overall ranking.

SDG 14: Life Below Water

Ranked 1st out of 379 institutions for its work in support of SDG 14: Life Below Water, the University of Plymouth has an international reputation for outstanding marine and maritime teaching, research and innovation.

The sea is woven into the University’s heritage and this has resulted in a number of national and international awards, most notably two Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education, presented in 2012 and 2020.

Its researchers were the first to discover microplastics and reveal their global distribution, and significantly improved how to forecast extreme coastal events and their impact on coastal communities.

They were the first to study the ecological effects of ocean acidification and warming, and now lead the UK agenda for offshore renewable energy.

Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS, Director of the University’s Marine Institute, said:

“Our research is fundamental in helping understand the marine environment and how best to tackle the challenges it currently faces. That covers everything from understanding the effects of our changing climate, to revealing the impact of plastics on marine life, and highlighting the need for greater understanding of the deep seas. Critically, our work also focuses on identifying solutions to help safeguard our oceans for the future, and on inspiring the next generation of marine scientists and guardians.”

Marine Institute

Representing 3000 staff, researchers and students, the University of Plymouth's Marine Institute is the first and largest such institute in the UK. 

We provide the external portal to our extensive pool of world-leading experts and state-of-the-art facilities, enabling us to understand the relationship between the way we live, the seas that surround us and the development of sustainable policy solutions.

Discover more about the Marine Institute

SDG 17: partnerships for the goals

Ranked 9th out of all the institutions featured in the tables for its efforts in support of SDG 17, the University has established itself as an international pioneer in sustainability practices, research, education and engagement.

It has won prestigious awards for its efforts to embed sustainability across its campuses, while its researchers have contributed to global advances in thinking on issues including marine pollution and conservation, global warming, environmental change and natural hazards.

It also has a reputation as a centre for excellence in sustainability teaching and learning, ensure all students graduate with an appreciation of the issues, urgency and opportunities.

In 2019, the University declared a climate emergency, joining an international movement aimed at taking action on climate change.

Dr Samantha Davies, Head of Sustainability, said:

“Climate change is a global situation, and global cooperation is needed to make a real and lasting difference. We pride ourselves on having staff and students who include environmental practices in their professional and personal lives. But our innovation and research, and the changes on campus, are also having positive effects in the local community and globally.”

We're a leading, award-winning university for sustainability 

We have a strong strategy for sustainability, incorporating social economic and environmental principles that have been in place for nearly two decades. 

We aim to have a sustainable campus and enable learning to research solutions to the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. 

We also want to motivate the next generation of students to go out and tackle the sustainability challenges they'll find in their workplace.

Find out more about our sustainable University

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

Listed 19th of 442 institutions within this category, the University of Plymouth has made concerted efforts over many years to reduce food waste while raising awareness of the food challenges facing local and global communities.

In 2013, it introduced food composting from its campus catering outlets and in 2018–19 collected 14 tonnes of food waste. It also donates near-date food to local charities such as Trevi House.

Through the Agri-Tech Cornwall programme, the University is also pioneering new robotics and artificial lighting technology to help farmers across the UK to overcome the lack of available manual labour and boost global crop production.

It is also part of a major new research project, funded through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF), which will unite researchers and food industry representatives with charity leaders to reimagine how food policy, products and supply chains can be developed to support disadvantaged communities.

Dr Clare Pettinger, Lecturer in Public Health Dietetics, is the University lead for the project and has worked for many years examining how food and poverty impact vulnerable people across the city. She said:

“Plymouth has more people in debt than the national average and food insecurity has become more pronounced as a result of COVID-19, especially for vulnerable communities. This project presents an opportunity to work more closely with diverse local communities, to give them more of a say in how the food system operates, so that their right to healthy, affordable, sustainable and good quality food can finally be realised.”

Our pioneering spirit runs deep in the quest for a better tomorrow

From the mountain peaks to the ocean depths and with the communities living between, we are on a quest to address global challenges through novel ways of studying issues, creative approaches to understanding their causes and uncovering innovative, sustainable solutions.

Meet our pioneering researchers