Environmentalism and international higher education

1 Feb 2020

In light of the emergence of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, alongside claims that the world is on fire, world leaders and the general populace have begun taking the climate emergency much more seriously. The UK government has promised to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050 and other governments and institutions have been making a lot of noise about championing sustainability.

 

One sector that is naturally facing a lot of attention is higher education (HE), especially its international element. And rightly so: as of 2017-18 there were some 458,490 international students in the UK, many of whom had just joined for their first year. That’s a lot of air miles being put on the clock. So, how could the international higher education sector become more environmentally friendly? There are a few solutions being touted.

 

As University World News has highlighted, there are several ways in which international higher education contributes to the current environmental predicament we find ourselves in. Mobility between countries tops the list, as many international students rely heavily on air travel. Thankfully, unlike some environmental agencies, University World News has come up with some potential solutions for solving this issue.

 

The first solution is a reduction in short term study programmes, of which there are many. With roughly 60% of American students abroad being on such programmes, and with 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions coming from travelling, flying to, say, Europe from the US to study abroad could generate output of CO2. Instead of travelling such long distances, University World News recommends partnering up with institutions that are more closely accessible either by train or other less polluting methods of transport.

 

Their second solution focuses on the Erasmus programme. University World News claim it is crucial for the EU – who have signalled their commitment to becoming more environmentally sustainable – to focus on developing more environmentally friendly modes of transport for Erasmus students across the continent. They also have mentioned that perhaps there should be a calculation on how many students, teachers and administrators can be exchanged between institutions in a manner that is also environmentally friendly.

 

The third solution offered is focusing on internationalisation at home. This has become a big buzz word in higher education circles as of late. It means diversifying the curriculum, by focusing on more than just one strand of, for example, history or philosophy. It also means taking part in online exchanges of information and learning through webinars. Then there’s the suggestion of using the experiences of already present immigrant communities in countries to help shape the educational pathways of HE institutions.

 

And it’s not just the professors and administrators who can help contribute to being more environmentally friendly, though such advice has been going around for a long time. Students can play their part as well. From meat intake or even going meat-free, recycling and accessorising their current clothes, to using all sorts of renewable products, the Guardian has given quite an informative list.  A list which can be quite applicable for international students if they know where to look, and if they are happy to spend a little more to be environmentally conscious.

 

As the examples above highlight, air travel is the biggest concern facing the international higher education sector, and as such the best solution could be finding more environmentally friendly travelling solutions and adapting more time to developing online teaching programmes that fully embrace the values of the sector. Of course, there are little ways in which students can help make the sector more environmentally friendly, but these come with a cost and knowledge factor. All of this depends on whether the sector is willing to walk the walk, and really show they mean business. As with any business, we can only wait and see.

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