The future of international tertiary education and the Race to Zero

Thusday 17 June | 3.30pm - 4.30pm BST


  • Chair | Susana Galvan, Director – South Africa, British Council 
  • Nigel Topping – UK High Level Climate Action Champion
  • Dr Nico Jooste – Founding Director, AfriC - African Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation, South Africa
  • Emraan Azad – Commonwealth Scholar from Bangladesh currently studying International Law at Cambridge University, UK
  • A’Shante (Tassah) O’Keife – Student from Antigua currently studying Education and Development at the University of Edinburgh, UK

Session highlights

“I’d like to see students doing more to take action. Get bolshy - if the university hasn’t joined the race to zero, knock on the VC’s door and ask ‘why not?’ and help the faculty join.” Nigel Topping, the UK’s High Level Climate Action Champion

  • Universities can play a vital role in the Race to Zero Campaign, to build momentum around the shift to a decarbonized economy and to send a resounding signal to governments that society is united in tackling climate change and are taking action to do so, Nigel Topping, the UK’s High Level Climate Action Champion for the UN climate talks, COP26, said in an address to the conference Closing Plenary session.
  • Nigel Topping introduced the Race to Zero for Universities & Colleges, part of Race To Zero, which has been signed by 624 higher and further education institutions, representing 8 million students. Signatories commit a three-point plan; mobilizing more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation; a pledge to reach net-zero by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest; increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curriculum, campus and community outreach programmes.
  • Future generations will be the hardest hit by climate change, but they can also be equipped with the knowledge, skills and capability to pioneer the journey to a healthy, resilient, low-carbon world, said Nigel Topping. By influencing the minds of future leaders who come through their doors universities can ensure they are building heads, minds and hearts that are needed for a net zero future.
  • Asked to imagine tertiary education in 15 years, Emraan Azad from Bangladesh studying international law at the University of Cambridge said the pandemic has highlighted the difference between the experiences of students in the global north and global south. Universities, legislators, policy makers and big international organisation need to address the inequalities over the next few years, he said.
  • A’Shante O’Keife, student from Antigua studying education and development at the University of Edinburgh said the pandemic had already changed teaching and learning. “There will be social changes and shifts in way students think about tertiary education and what they expect from institutions. The changes because of the pandemic will shift the way we look at and experience tertiary education within the next decade or so,” she added.

Session summary

Our closing plenary session combines an imagining of the future of international tertiary education with a call to action on climate change. Dr Nico Jooste, Founding Member and Director at AfriC – the African Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation – will engage with current international students in a horizon scan of international tertiary education in 15 years’ time - 2036. What elements of the ‘rapid pivot’ of further and higher education triggered by the pandemic will persist until then? How will they have shaped not just how teaching and learning is provided, but also tertiary education’s beliefs in what its global purpose is? Is there congruence or mismatch between the expectations of students and the vision of leaders on the future of international tertiary education?

Nigel Topping, UK High-Level Climate Action Champion, will close Going Global 2021 with an uplifting challenge. His address will describe the origins of the global ‘Race to Zero’ campaign and tell us how, in practical terms, universities and colleges can mobilise and accelerate their actions on climate change, beyond the COP26. All institutions tuning in to this closing plenary from around the world will hear the challenge: will institutional leaders commit to joining the ‘Race to Zero for Universities and Colleges’ campaign? 

See also