Session highlights

"The trick here is to think about what the international experiences that we don't want to block, because they really are valuable, and which are the ones which are very heavy on the environment and maybe could equally well be covered in another way." Professor Susan Harrison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Internationalisation, University of Cape Town 

  • Professor Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor, Nottingham Trent University, noted that sustainability initiatives across the global HE sector tend to focus on campus estates, the energy efficiency of buildings, travel to work arrangements, and the efficiency of our supply chain, but there has been much less emphasis on addressing the environmental impact of institutional strategies - including international mobility. He asked how can universities reconcile the two ambitions of becoming more green and being international?
  • Professor Susan Harrison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Internationalisation, University of Cape Town, said before the pandemic the carbon footprint of universities was "becoming huge" as faculty took long haul flights once a month. The question now must be: “what is good about the new way of being that we've been in for the past 15 months? What should go and what should stay?” Universities could be doing much more virtually, she suggested – but it was not realistic to just end all travel. 
  • Professor John Brewer, CEO, NCUK, said that when thinking about the carbon footprint associated with international study, it was important to remember the holistic benefits: "The experience of studying overseas will make students far more open-minded, and importantly, much more tolerant of others. It will create young people who are genuinely global citizens, able to make a worthwhile contribution to societies, not just economies".

Session summary

Leaders in international education are acutely aware of their environmental responsibilities, and universities worldwide have responded innovatively to the many challenges created by climate change. This panel discussion involving university leaders from the South Africa and the UK directly addresses some of the dilemmas faced by higher education leaders as they seek to proactively engage with the sustainability agenda.

Sustainability initiatives across the global HE sector mostly focus on campus estates, the energy efficiency of buildings, travel to work and the carbon efficiency of the supply chain. Much less emphasis has been placed on addressing the environmental impact of core institutional strategies which traditionally require international mobility, such as research cooperation, providing students' with life-changing international experiences and pursuing internationalisation through increasing international recruitment.

This discussion will focus on four key dilemmas that face university leaders as they seek to achieve 'green internationalisation'

  1. The research dilemma: How can we achieve truly collaborative and productive academic research partnerships with reduced travel or solely virtual contact?
  2. The student experience dilemma: Will the move to more sustainable blended or virtual forms of mobility provide equivalent benefits to students, and continue to produce culturally-aware global citizens?
  3. The student recruitment dilemma: While a move to more transnational education (TNE) involving less physical mobility is more inclusive and accessible, how will this complement the continued pursuit of more on-campus international students?
  4. The international rankings dilemma: Can sustainability rankings that measure engagement with the SDGs become an integral part of international league tables, or are the metrics used in these ranking inherently in conflict with sustainability objectives?

Each of the three panellists will tackle these dilemmas from the perspective of a university leader, and will encourage the audience to answer some difficult questions around 'green internationalisation' based on their own experiences

Speakers

  • Chair: Prof. Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor, Nottingham Trent University, UK 
  • Prof. John Brewer, CEO, NCUK, UK
  • Prof. Susan Harrison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation, University of Cape Town, South Africa