IV. Conference Proceedings
Greening Student and Scholar Exchange:
Concrete Ideas and Practices
Chaired by Ravi de Costa, Associate Dean, York University, the Session focused on new ways and successful solutions to make higher education mobility more inclusive and sustainable for young people. The panel focused on how student and scholar exchange can become more conscious through institutional decisions and new ways of virtually, visually, and artistically collaborating with young people. Based on the discussions, there are many global innovative projects being implemented in order to raise awareness of the universities’ ecological footprint and the impacts of climate change. As an example, many of the speakers noted that this can be accomplished through Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, holding youth-led conferences, and making video documentaries presenting climate change effects across the globe.
This panel also discussed the importance of building human relationships beyond home. In order to make in person exchanges and mobility successful, panelists advocated for university institutions to be responsible and accountable for making exchanges more accessible and greener for all stakeholders. This can be done by developing interdisciplinary inclusive programs and alternate learning pathways to encourage student engagement and discussions. Lastly, the session ended on the topic of youth mobilization and genuine participation and inclusion of young people around the world. The speakers agreed that universities and non-profit organizations must move away from tokenism and integrate student’s and young people’s voices in the policy making process and in the critical conversations around this topic.
Jana Dlouhá, Second Vice-Chairman of the Czech Commission for UNESCO at Charles University in the Czech Republic, examined the influence of mobility in higher education institutions. She analyzed how international student and staff mobility impacts the carbon footprint in climate change. She identified a significant gap in the study of the effects of international mobility amongst incoming international students and conference-based research trips by academics. By comparing data from Université Libre de Brussels and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Dlouhá explained that in both universities, carbon emissions from student and staff (international or local transportation) account for about half of all carbon emissions from the respective universities. These carbon emissions are mainly caused by plane travel, mobile transportation, and students commuting to school. She noted that mobility related emissions account for over 50% of total emissions from higher education institutions, international travel, such as travel by international students, account for more than 25% of this mobility footprint. As part of the reduction strategies for new internationalization, she recommended for universities to consider the following measures to reduce their carbon footprint:
- Offering different forms of international experiences for students and contacts;
- Hosting longer exchanges and visitations for faculty and foreign students;
- Attracting more returning talents at regional universities;
- Hosting more virtual collaborations and conferences, and;
- Providing dual degrees and diplomas for exchange students.
She said that these measures can reduce higher education institutions’ carbon footprint while advancing inclusive practices because they include different approaches and experiences for students and faculty, they mitigate the economic concern, and they consider individuals’ accessibility needs.
Mark Terry, Director of the Youth Climate Report and UNESCO Chair Associate at York University, stated that youth are often overlooked and forgotten on the topics on climate change. He warned that the exclusion of young people is unacceptable and Western researchers and academics need to create accessible networks and inclusive mobility programs that students can participate globally with reduced environmental carbon footprint. He introduced the youth-led project called the Youth Climate Report. This one-week project brings students together from five different continents telling a story on climate research impacts from their own communities. This platform uses a Geo-Doc (Geographic Documentary) format to present three to five-minute-long films created by students giving them an opportunity to express their ideas on climate change and to be heard by the UN. He explained how the project integrates principles of creative storytelling in the classroom to further the SDGs and climate action. Through videos, students can present their work at various research conferences and contribute to discussions by policymakers under the UNFCCC. Furthermore, he stressed that there needs to be more responsibility and accountability from universities in youth engagement and decision making. He called for the education sector to be more transparent and inclusive by listening to youth’s voices. He said this transparency and inclusivity can help universities produce high-quality data about climate change while creating intergenerationally equitable decisions.
Judith Naidorf, Independent Researcher of CONICET, Institute of Research in Educational Sciences, Universidad de Buenos Aires, addressed the importance of cultural and knowledge exchange through international mobility. She highlighted that international conferences have her with rich opportunities for cultural exchange with other scholars and partners within the field of Social Sciences and Humanities from Honduras, Mexico, Japan, and many other countries. She mentioned language ability as one of the many skills developed in exchange offerings, sharing her own experience as a native Spanish speaker who improved her foreign language skills during conferences in various international locations. She suggested that by encouraging the study of shared experiences, CLACSO (Latin American Council of Social Sciences) encourages student and academic exchange globally to advance cultural and intellectual knowledge transfer. She maintained that for students participating in mobility programs, there should be more discussion on what they learned, their relationship to the place, and the construction of new knowledge from their encounters. Although mobility programs provide areas of debate surrounding emissions and greening practices, she strongly believes in the cultural experiences and knowledge acquisition from exchanges. She concluded by further highlighting that the types of learning and understanding achieved through in-person experiences in different parts of the world cannot be easily replaced if the in-person element is non-existent.
Tyrone Hall, Head of Communications, NDC partnership, World Resource Institute, United States, concurred with fellow speakers on the need to improve the awareness and action from the education sector on addressing the carbon footprint in mobility programs. He shared that his organization, the World Resource Institute, launched a global initiative that involves young people to help guide and provide structural solutions with climate organizations and non-government organizations on climate change. The youth-led organization, called the Youth Task Force, is an initiative co-chaired and organized by and for young people. This project looks to ensure that young people’s voices worldwide are heard and understood in decisions around sustainability issues. He said that the initiative develops systemic ways in which youth can help reach the SDGs and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by providing the necessary resources and tools to help policymakers and researchers design a climate change plan. He also emphasized that it is important for universities and non-profit organizations to empower youth to address this climate challenge. Young people around the world show interest and are already involved in solving climate change in their local communities. However, many do not have the resources or connections that would assist with their projects. He noted that instead of perceiving youth and young people as add-ons, researchers, policymakers, and academics should start listening and including diverse youth in the decision-making processes.
Discussion and Q&A
At the end of the session, the panel addressed the question “What responsibility do those working with mobility programs have on this issue [green scholar exchange]?”.Panelists agreed that mobility in higher educational institutions needs to become more diverse and start actively involving youth and students to be a part of the process to advance inclusion. In addition, it was agreed that higher education institutions should transparently disclose results for public access in an understandable and accessible format. More accountability and stringent measures can be an effective solution to hold universities and corporations responsible for their ecological footprint. A key issue among institutions is the inclusivity and transparency in data collection and monitoring. The panel agreed that it is problematic that developing nations and international research communities are often forgotten and excluded from the conversation, negatively impacting the progress of their work and their ability to achieve results.
Overall, the overarching message the panel agreed upon was the need to increase transparency, diversity, and accountability in higher education institutions to reduce their carbon emissions. Naidorf suggested that after critical data collection universities need to publish their data for transparency as a requirement. Dlouhá noted that institutions will only disclose emissions if there are other institutions following suit. The perpetual controversy of institutions starting to disclose their emissions results in inaction. To develop a culture of transparency, the panel agreed that there needs to be a global collaboration for emissions transparency among institutions. The session ended with the question: “What action can be taken to embed a culture of sustainability in international student exchange?”. In response, Terry outlined that in order to integrate sustainability, we must be able to approach youth through the channels of engagement that they already know — such as social media. According to his experience, youth are more receptive and willing to participate in projects when they see a social element.
Reflections from the Chair and Way Forward
This session allowed participants to focus on their experiences and efforts that were inherently valuable and broadly instructive. Attendees were seized by the imaginative strategies for sustainable internationalization that were explored, both departing from the panelists’ diverse presentations, the thoughtful discussions about the current challenges and also catalyzed by lively discussion in the chat. It is important to note that this session was a welcome relief and was characterized by a sense of energy and imagination. A feeling of excitement prevailed, panelists in good humor and attendees chatting freely, even confronted with a technically maladroit session chair. It seemed that everyone was encountering each other for the first time, but with a generous curiosity; all bringing a willingness to share both their experiences and hopes about whatever might be a sustainable internationalization in higher education.
The discussions that took place in this session helped identify established and emerging best practices in international education from a sustainability perspective, including a focus on longer and deeper forms of exchange and a commitment to more balanced and reciprocal programs. Panelists explained the need to improve their engagement with youth. In addition, several specific initiatives happening at York University were mentioned, including the award-winning Youth Climate Report, which takes the form a “geo-doc”, combining mapping and film-making technologies to balance local stories from students all over the world and global access. This also aligns with the Planetary Health Film Lab initiative, which provides training and support to student filmmakers telling stories about climate research and impacts from their respective communities. As an example, the Youth Task Force (by the World Resources Institute) enabled approaches that bring young people together around specific projects on the SDGs and climate action decentering some of the assumptions made in the Global North. Finally, panelists emphasized on the importance of language training in successful models of internationalization.