Higher education is a powerful driver of sustainable development: it raises aspiration, sets values, reduces poverty, promotes health, improves gender equality, drives long-term economic growth and, ultimately, enriches lives.
However, it is not accessible to all: on average, only 8% of young adults are enrolled into higher education in the poorest countries, compared to 74% the richest countries2.
Progress has been made – between 2000 and 2014, the number of students in higher education rose from 100m to 207m – but bolder efforts are needed to ensure that no one is left behind.
The Hermes SDG Engagement Fund seeks strong investment returns through stock picking and positive societal impact through engagements focused on the SDGs. This is illustrated by our exposure to John Wiley & Sons.
Wiley’s 201-year history is rooted in educational publishing, primarily scientific, technical and medical books and journals. Its vast catalogue of textbooks and online courses means that it is well positioned to support the broadening of access to necessary educational materials and, in turn, promote high-quality education globally.
As a founder of the UN-backed Research4Life initiative, a platform which provides scientific content free of charge to researchers in developing countries and publishes internationally-recognised health care and policy research, Wiley has established a strong reputation in the scientific and medical fields, often publishing significant breakthroughs in these areas. Wiley, therefore, plays an important role in advancing human welfare and, ultimately, economic progress by promoting the availability of knowledge.
However, paywalls restrict access – and impede an already disadvantaged effort on research. According to Frontiers, almost 80% of journals and 93% of sustainability research are hidden behind a paywall. To solve development challenges identified by the SDGs, knowledge must spread beyond these walls to catalyse new ideas and developments. This demands action: broadening access to knowledge and supporting its generation, while keeping the challenges set out by the SDGs front of mind.
We are engaging with Wiley on SDGs three and four, and we believe the company will be able to generate positive outcomes by aligning its actions with the SDGs.
In July, we spoke with Wiley’s investor relations team. We discussed the company’s approach to broadening access to its educational and research materials, including in LMIC markets. Encouragingly, the company’s new chief executive Brian Napack – the first externally appointed CEO in the company’s history – is cognisant of our agenda and the role a knowledge business can play in the world.
To align its corporate practices more closely with the SDGs, we are encouraging Wiley to:
The company has acknowledged that there are mutual benefits – to both the company and wider society – of expanding its business into emerging economies and has demonstrated a commitment to continuing the conversation in the second half of the year. We will continue to engage with the company, and in particular the new CEO, to establish this agenda at a board level, including the reformation of its sustainability committee and development of its plans about playing an active role in advancing the SDGs by 2030.