Past event

STACEES event series: Net Zero and the Direction of Travel in Scottish HE Internationalization, sustainability and the contested environmental impacts of International Student Mobility

This seminar focuses on the environmental sustainability of the ongoing growth in international student mobility (ISM). The Higher Education (HE) system in the UK and elsewhere is increasingly predicated upon the hosting of international students. Whilst this drive towards internationalisation undoubtably has multiple significant benefits, little attention thus far has been paid to its environmental impact. This is of significance because the carbon generated by ISM could conceivably be very considerable. The drive for internationalisation within HE thus potentially sits at odds with strategies to promote sustainability within the sector and beyond. This seminar seeks to stimulate conversation around the compatibility of these agendas within HE. A survey of students is used to generate a carbon audit of ISM in the UK. In-depth interviews with students and representatives of International Offices offer insights into how the environment features in the decisions that young people and HE institutions make with regards to education related mobility. The results point to the carbon emissions attributable to ISM being quite considerable, and largely due to the air travel involved in moving between home and university. Students take environmental considerations into account when undertaking education related mobility, but these aspirations are often secondary to logistical issues concerning the financial cost and time associated with greener travel options. At the institutional scale, university sustainability agendas have yet to be reconciled with the financial imperative to recruit evermore international students. This research thus flags up a thus far neglected contradiction within HE whereby the sustainability agenda that it so rightly espouses is potentially undermined by aspects of the drive towards internationalisation.

Dr David McCollum is a Senior Lecturer in migration studies in the School of Geography & Sustainable Development, with research expertise in international student mobility.

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