V. Select Papers on Key Issues and Topics Discussed at the Conference

Academic and Professional Mobility and its Transformative Potential 

Brittany Foutz and Brian Polkinghorn

Abstract colourful painting.
Photo by Josep Martins
Academic and Professional Mobility
and itsTransformative Potential



With the development of exchange mechanisms, periods of mobility abroad have become frequent, sometimes unavoidable, in the school curriculum of a student. Taking the form of semesters of study in a foreign university or work placements for higher education students, the skills acquired during these immersion phases, both linguistically and technically, and in terms of know-how, are undeniable and valued by numerous research works. In this paper, we will review the impact of international exchanges on the professional integration of students. We are interested in the academic and professional gain linked to the international mobility that organizations, such as Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) locations, can offer to college students. We propose, in our research, to examine the construction and contribution of the opportunities that these RCE locations can offer to students, in terms of academic, professional and social development. This study will highlight RCE Salisbury, of which is hosted by the organization the Bosserman Center of Conflict Resolution,  as a case study. 


As is known, since ancient times, traveling and discovering new cultures was an experiential way of acquiring new knowledge. The registration of student mobility has been carried out since Roman times when the best students traveled to Athens or Alexandria to acquire knowledge because in their place of origin it was scarce. The phrase “travels illustrate … the enlightened one” (unknown author) was frequently used during the Renaissance era, because the exploration of the New World represented an inexhaustible vein of knowledge where different cultures contributed from their different socioeconomic areas. The benefits that this way of acquiring knowledge brought was regulated and legalized until modern times, when educational treaties emerged. In the last three decades, student mobility in emerging countries has developed, observing displacement of students to developed countries due to: economic status, hegemony of the English language and sources of financing for higher education. Various organizations have also been founded to promote international student mobility. In labor practice, a phenomenon has emerged called the “brain drain”, where emerging countries encourage and finance their students for international mobility and developed countries employ them. All this panorama teaches us that international education mobility has become an increasingly greater topic and area of concern. 

In the last decade, the school context has been affected by profound changes expressed with targeted choices that have placed the international dimension at the center of the university courses and with international mobility as a youth employability improvement strategy. In recent years, educating for global and intercultural citizenship seems to be the priority objective of the educational institutions that aim for the training of competent and competitive people in the labor force. In the orbit of the internationalization of economies, the opening of channels for mobility is considered essential for the dissemination of knowledge to the interaction of cultures and socioeconomic development. Mobility provides new opportunities for personal and professional development, being of capital importance between disadvantaged social groups, for example, in the case of the young population. Changes in the structure of the labor market have forced this group not only to develop and train skills in tune with labor demands, but also to have a network of contacts that promote their access to employment. This exacerbates the need to emphasize in those training processes that can have a positive impact on their employability. 

Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development

In 2003, in response to the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD), the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) launched a global multi-stakeholder network of Regional Centres of Expertise on ESD (RCEs). RCEs facilitate multi-sector collaboration and utilize formal, non-formal, and informal education to address sustainable development challenges in local and regional communities. In essence, RCEs are a tool for transformation to a more sustainable society, combining education and action for sustainable development.  

As we enter the new “ESD for 2030″ decade, RCEs will continue to construct platforms for cross-sectoral dialogue between regional stakeholders and actors to promote and strengthen ESD at the local level. RCEs have committed to helping advance the five priority areas of action established in the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD and the new UN decade “ESD for 2030”: advancing policy by mainstreaming ESD; transforming learning and training environments using whole-institution approaches; building capacities of educators and trainers; empowering and mobilizing youth; and accelerating sustainable solutions at the local level.  

RCEs are uniquely positioned to serve as shepherds in the realization of the new “ESD for 2030” decade. As of January 2019, 174 RCEs have officially been acknowledged by United Nations University worldwide, with eight RCEs in the United States (US): Georgetown, South Carolina; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Greater Atlanta, Georgia; Greater Burlington, Vermont; Greater Portland, Oregon; North Texas, Texas; Salisbury, Maryland, and Shenandoah Valley, Virginia.  These efforts are particularly poignant in the US, given that the nation is no longer a Member State of UNESCO. With the onus of responsibility now on civil society, US RCEs serve an essential role in the achievement of “ESD for 2030” goals by translating its global objectives into local contexts of their communities. 


RCE Salisbury 

RCEs in the US are working on innovative ways to make the Global Goals real within their communities but also promote mobility learning at home. RCE Salisbury, located in Salisbury, Maryland (US), housed within the nonprofit the Bosserman Center for Conflict Resolution, specializes in conflict prevention and creative problem solving, and is the only RCE that is designated with this area of expertise in the world. At RCE Salisbury, the promotion of mobility learning is done at the Center to provide many avenues of practical experience for students there and from other parts of the world. RCE Salisbury can take students beyond theoretical knowledge transmitted by books and through academia, and can facilitate and accelerate the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for employability today. As an RCE, the Bosserman Center is part of a network along with the other locations, able to share expertise and work together on large projects, not only in the U.S., but around the world. When fostering student research, RCE Salisbury specifically focuses on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 Quality Education; 13 Climate Action; and 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, of which addresses the core needs in the region such as disparate access to educational opportunities, the disproportionate impact of climate change, especially in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and more generally the need to bolster local institutions so as to improve access to justice and build peaceful communities. Thus, RCE Salisbury essentially acts as the bridge to move knowledge to and from the community and university. 

RCE Salisbury has become the sandbox where students can engage in major grant research; ongoing undergraduate and graduate education; and innovative and impactful training at the local, national, and international levels, especially in ESD. This is where capacity has been built to promote mobility learning to provide many avenues of practical experience for students in the region and from other parts of the world. Evidence of RCE Salisbury’s experience with SDGs 4, 13, and 16 and international mobility can be seen through extensive practitioner experience in service, training, workshops, and academia in the RCE Salisbury region. One example of these experiences is a current research project being conducted by one of RCE Salisbury’s research fellows from India who is virtually examining the evolution of Environmental Education (EE) and Conflict Resolution (CR) in India, but also the presentation of local environmental conflict and injustice issues in India’s EE and CR curriculums. Here at RCE Salisbury, students are able to engage in not only in-person but virtual research exchanges with one of the leaders in the field of CR.  

Is it necessary, then, to extend mobility beyond academics and travel to another country to conduct research, when one can stay home at home and conduct virtual research, such as what many of the research fellows are already engaged in at RCE Salisbury? Staying at home, one can certainly reduce their ecological and carbon footprint. At RCE Salisbury, students are able to find the skills that they would already develop while going abroad, such as intercultural skills and being ready for the global market. Student mobility programs have traditionally allowed students to enter in contact with different cultures and institutions, where they can acquire not only professional but, also, intercultural skills. This has helped students to become more autonomous and independent, as it stimulates the need to identify useful strategies to adapt to an unfamiliar context, mobilizing all cognitive, emotional and functional relational resources to achieve study and personal growth objectives. At RCE Salisbury, research fellows are engaged with other fellows from all over the world on writing the curriculum for various training programs, conference presentations, book research, and much more. Furthermore, students are worked with to enrich themselves and prepare for an increasingly global job market.  


Not every student who intends to engage in international research must travel to their destination via airplane, which is a significant source of greenhouse gases. RCE locations bring together educational institutions, governments, businesses, and other organizations, whether local, national, or international to advance sustainability education. These individuals can come together worldwide to work together and share experiences and challenges of projects on biodiversity, sustainable consumption and production, climate change, engaging youth, promoting higher education, and much more. These are valuable contributions that can promote sustainability, increase awareness of ESD, and accelerate collaboration and collective impact. 


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RCE network. (n.d.). RCE NETWORK: RCE vision and mission  https://www.rcenetwork.org/portal/rce-vision-andmission

UNESCO. (2020, March 12). Global action programme on education for sustainable development (2015-2019). UNESCO. https://en.unesco.org/globalactionprogrammeoneducation

UNESCO (2020, July 21). ESD for 2030: What’s next for education for sustainable development? UNESCO. https://en.unesco.org/news/esd-2030-whatsnext-education-sustainable-development

Authors: Foutz, B. & Polkinghorn, B. (2021). Academic and professional mobility and its transformative potential. York University, Toronto.

Contact: Brittany Foutz, Salisbury University. Blfoutz@salisbury.edu

DOI: 10.25071/10315/38628_02