VI. Moving Forward
York University’s campuses are located in Canada’s largest city where the majority of its population has been born outside Canada. This opportunity brings to our institution an enormous wealth of heritage, traditions, languages, and a possibility of living in a setting of lifelong learning and sharing of cultural experiences.
In 2018-19, the academic community including students, faculty and administrators at York University started questioning the purpose and impact of studying and researching abroad. What started as a conversation evolved into critically questioning existing educational approaches towards internationalization in a new framework of the SDGs and with a new university-wide academic plan on the way, it seemed natural to explore a better understanding of providing excellent services in internationalization at York University. With a strong conscience of their own ecological footprint, and participation in alternative structured concepts, such as Globally Networked Learning (GNL), students and academics were already creating new forms of virtual mobility and exchange that did not seem to depend on access to physical travel.
The Sustainable on the Go Initiative is the result from the support of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF), York International and the UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education towards Sustainability. This initiative started a dialogue with scholars and practitioners in international education from Canada and other regions in the world that questioned international mobility in practice, greening of student and scholar exchange, leveraging technology and digital learning, community engagement, inclusivity of exchange programs, and assessment of intercultural development.
As Co-Chairs, in partnership with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the International Association of Universities and Okayama University in Japan, we brought together a diverse group of speakers and participants in the first virtual global conference on the future of sustainable and inclusive internationalization in higher education. This opportunity allowed an open and global forum between two groups of experts from the fields of international education and education for sustainable development that traditionally had not been in direct conversation. Furthermore, the event was held at the height of a worldwide pandemic when international academic exchanges and in-person learning were not permitted.
The consultation process and adoption of the Toronto Declaration in 2021 by more than 500 participants from 60 countries, representing government and non-government institutions, private sector, international organizations and global networks demonstrated the unanimous commitment to enhancing sustainable and inclusive internationalization efforts and most of all create a holistic understanding of sustainability to be addressed in its three dimensions: environmental, economic and social. Thank you to all who took part for your engagement and contributions in making this conference so successful!
Post-pandemic internationalization in higher education will face new expectations by its stakeholders, will respond to the calls for more responsible ways of traveling, being more sustainable in its outcomes and being inclusive. Virtual opportunities to continuously learn, gain experience, and mobilize knowledge beyond borders have tremendously broadened our horizon without a direct increase of ecological footprints. Hopefully, they help reducing internationalization’s environmental impact in the future. Creating transformative actions that contribute towards a sustainable future requires more than exchanging knowledge. Building global citizen competencies for our future graduates and higher education professionals with practical problem-solving skills, understanding cultural awareness and values that address issues of justice, equity, interdependence with others, and the ability to address actual community needs through relevant research and community science, require an exposure to the realities beyond our own limited familiar habitat.
Only then, we will develop a deeper and empathic connection to those affected by global realities. Such compassion will influence our own lives, their sense of identity and can lead to transformative action in their own future choices or lifestyles. These steps will empower graduates of an internationally linked education to act for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society empowering people of all genders, for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity (UNESCO 2020).
The Sustainable on the Go Initiative at York University that was successfully started with the 2021 Sustainable and Inclusive Internationalization Virtual Conference and significantly grounded through the Toronto Declaration, will further aim to strengthen the foundation for transformative action of students and scholars. Through this Initiative, we aim to continue to critically reflect towards enhancing student´s travel literacy, making our programs more sustainable and inclusive, continue learning with and from our peers, and are fully committed to contribute towards building a better future in partnership with our global networks.
Vinitha Gengatharan, Executive Director, York University
Charles Hopkins, Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education towards Sustainability, York University