Session highlights

The elephant in the room is that fights are very carbon intensive so how do we minimise that but also give students the experiences? It’s great that we are coming up with ideas for virtual visits but we can’t all isolate for ever. We can’t all stay in our homes and not talk to each other because this is a global problem we all have to deal with. What universities provide for societies is the power of ideas and the power of connecting, so if we all stayed at home in our corners for ever we wouldn’t have that chance to figure out where we overlap and where we can learn from each other.” Carly Spring, recent USA graduate. 

Short term student mobility of less than four weeks abroad accounts for more than a fifth – 21 per cent – of all student mobility in the UK and on 24 June in London a new survey will be published on the experiences of these students, the effect on their studies, employability and “soft” skills and the barriers they face, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, said Celia Partridge, Assistant Director for Mobility and Partnerships at UUK International. The study is expected to show that those from all backgrounds, wherever they go, come back and say they are more engaged in their courses, have a different perspective and new interests and that their experience has an impact on their employability.  

Session summary

Concern about the carbon emissions associated with student mobility and pandemic-induced travel restrictions has led many to seek more sustainable and virtual ways to provide an internationalised study experience. Many institutions have been experimenting with e-mobility, short-term mobility programmes, and online forms of internationalisation, such as COIL (Collaborative International Online Learning).  If we want to get serious about offering inclusive, environmentally sustainable international education we should first focus on what we are doing at home to help all of our students develop intercultural competencies, not just the select few who go abroad.

Although there is a romantic notion that international student mobility should be inclusive and we should ensure that all students have access to a study abroad or internship abroad, realistically, this is not sustainable. Only 10% of graduates in most European countries have had an international experience abroad (Teichler, 2017). According to Shields' study (2019) on Greenhouse Gas emissions associated with international student mobility, the gasses produced from student mobility are equivalent to the total emissions released by countries such as Croatia or Tunisia. 

But what does all this actually mean for educators who have to navigate a path through this complexity? Is it possible to make study abroad more sustainable while maintaining short-term programmes' critical role as an accessible pathway to international study experiences for lower-income students? Can we promote internationalisation and reduce the CO₂ Impact to the planet at the same time? What role does COIL have to play and where can eco-literacy fit in?  In this session, we bring together a diverse range of experts from the UK, the Netherlands, France and Australia who have been grappling with exactly these questions.

They will share new data on the effectiveness of COIL, early findings from a study of 18 UK higher education institutions across the UK which are taking steps to provide short term mobility opportunities to their students, and information on how institutions around the world are dealing with these issues.  Most importantly they will offer suggestions for creative solutions and a possible framework for approaching the nexus between short and long-term mobility, environmental impact, and equity. 

The speakers will prepare a paper to accompany this session and present the latest research findings on the effectiveness of COIL and early research findings on the value of short-term mobility. 


  • Chair: Ailsa Lamont, Director and Founder, Pomegranate Global Pty Ltd, Australia
  • Heilwig Jones, Director, Kaya Responsible Travel, UK
  • Celia Partridge, Assistant Director, Partnerships and Mobility, Universities UK International (UUKi), UK