Embedding SDGs in University Pathways to Academic English and Research Skills



Triagon University
Organizations/areas of the university involved

Triagon University Faculty of Business; Faculty of Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies


Using SDGs and surrounding research as a basis to teach non-traditional MSc and DBA students to 1) summarize 2) paraphrase and 3) quote in academic reading and writing. Transferable to any English or Academic Skills course worldwide. 

There are over 20,000,000 non-native English students a year who study in universities in English globally. The tremendous gaps in all four skills are partially filled by IELTS/TOEFL or other standardized tests, or ‘Academic Pathway/Foundation’ courses at universities – with limited places and high rates.  


With the “Masters Bridge in English” we aimed to replace the ‘test’ and expensive pathways with an EU accredited and affordable ‘embedded online course,’ that can be integrated into any learning management system. During modules students can learn additional academic English, critical thinking, and transferable study skills then connect it directly to their Masters or PhD.  This method lowers the gap between ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speaker in the academic setting, moves students away from admissions tests towards useful courses, and connects academic language skills to any core course material. 


For the Masters Bridge, students learn ‘language and skills through content’ and this leads the student step-by.step to thinking critically about societal and environmental issues.  Once the student is sufficiently conscious of some ‘wicked’ problems through readings, videos, discussion, and short writing activities, they are led to the lessons “reading into writing” and “outlining a longer paper”.  The SDGs form the main content of the MBE for 12 hours which leads them through the following steps:


1) The SDGs are introduced briefly as a reading and note-taking exercise. Within 15 minutes they have a good picture of the different SDGs and why they are important but continue with further activities.

2) Students take notes and choose ‘quotes’ 

3) Students examine ‘contrasting’ viewpoints in texts and determine the goals that relate across viewpoints, as well as reflect on which affect their lives. 

4) The writing professor (live or pre-recorded on video) goes through the entire process from choosing quotes from the SDG research to paraphrase and summarize, then integrates them into an ‘academic style’ paragraph as cited references. 

5) Students follow the professor’s method with their own quotes and write a paraphrase, summary, and integrate a quote into short writing activity. 

6) The activity is assessed by one qualified tutor based on a simple ‘yes/no’ checklist regarding the functions of the skills, use of punctuation, vocabulary, and fluency of the writing. Average assessment time is 4 minutes per student.


We will continue to expand the MBE and other content-based language courses both for impact and income, while furthering the SDG goals directly and indirectly.  Once the MBE is fully-accredited and available, learning about the SDGs will literally help students get admitted to university and successfully complete advanced degrees. 

Results and impact measured or expected

We’ve so far conducted the MBE in two universities, with over 700 students. This included several formats: 1) MOOC style with written feedback 2) one-to-one with academic tutor, and 3) optional ‘mini-lessons’ connected to Master and DBA courses. Success is measured on over 100 discrete items during the course without additional effort from the student. These are categorized by competency and fit one of the broader categories. 

The impact of this quite new approach to Academic English has helped one student in Japan enter a US LL.M program; another participant an Australian LL.M; over 700 participants in India were able to take a partial course for free, enabling access for those from non-academic and non-English backgrounds to improve their academic english, critical thinking, and transferable study skills.  

Connection with the SDG framework

Most of this pre-Masters and pre-PhD skills course is available free of charge and on mobile or desktop, aligning with education access principles. The ‘reading into writing’ module expressly informs and enables critical discussion about the SDGs with experiential, practice-based examples directly from the relevant literature. And throughout the MBE – an accreditable language skills course for advanced study – the student dives deeply into SDG issues, particularly related to the climate crisis and energy renewal discourse.

Barriers and follow up

With a budget of less than $10,000 over 40 lessons in the MBE had to be created and delivered with limited equipment and people in a small language-teaching company, yet maintain a high quality level that would ‘give respect’ to online academic courses.  It took two years from 2018-2020 to build. Of course we didn’t expect COVID19 and the move of everyone online in a chaotic frenzy.  Instead of so many of these unprepared universities being happy that we already had a solution for academic english, mostly the vast majority rejected partnering with us and decided to either build their own from scratch or cancel the programs altogether.  This was shocking. But through our determination to get this course to as many students as possible, we focused instead on our private specialist English clients and a MOOC within Amity University (India) and Triagon Academy (Malta) who are now the global pioneers of this initiative. 

Transferability of the initiative

We expect the MBE or similar courses to significantly reduce the cost of entry and admissions at universities worldwide; support English-medium degree program internationalization strategies; highlight  the SDGs and a global mindset within Academic English and other ‘non-core’ offerings; provide access to high-quality education materials across devices and demographics.  The “MOOC+” is a way for tutorials to combine seamlessly with free content. The “course as the test” scores the learner on product creation and problem solving. And the “totally responsive design” where the course can be embedded across devices and platforms, even offline, creates new accessibility points not to mention advanced academic skills in the global lingua franca.