ISSUE #25 | THE PIE REVIEW | 41
WE WERE ALL dismayed at photographs of
Australia’s 2020 inferno, where estimates sug-gest
that forest fires killed one billion animals.
Alongside scientific surveys proving the shrinking of ice
caps and permanent damage to our planet, the climate
emergency is evidently here. Is the international education
sector paying attention to the crisis?
“I think it’s fair to say that most educators haven’t been
thinking about it,” warns Ailsa Lamont, director and founder
of Pomegranate Global and co-founder of CANIE: Climate
Action Network for International Educators. “It’s a pretty
recent phenomenon that any of them are.”
However, since CANIE’s grassroots initiative began in
August 2019, global awareness has increased, she says. “I’m
sure that’s connected to the school strike movement and
the general increase in climate awareness. And there’s this
growing unease from people of having to fly.”
Herein lies one of the big conundrums for our sector:
how to balance the need and belief in travelling and lear-ning
abroad with the inherent problems that flying creates
for our planet. Research has estimated that the upper levels
of annual carbon emissions from the HE and study abroad
sector is on par with overall emissions of countries such as
Tunisia or Croatia. Like it or not, international education is
synonymous with flying.
Transporting 360,000 students to the US, 210,000 to
Australia or 120,000 to the UK from the world’s top source
of international students – China – without air travel would
be impossible. Plane travel is a commodity that cannot be
substituted in this instance.
Certain regions like Europe may offer exceptions. Local
train services offer a unique proposition for international
travel. A number of Swedish universities – including Lund,
Uppsala, Chalmers, Gothenburg – offer outbound Erasmus+
students grants if they choose to travel by rail. In January
2020, one student from Umeå in Sweden made the 4,000km
journey to Porto in Portugal by train. Airports in Sweden
saw a four per cent drop overall in passengers in 2019. It is
also where the term Flygskam – flight shaming – originates.
On the wider continent, the European Commission
suggests Erasmus participants take advantage of Europe’s
comprehensive rail network. Institutions have attempted to
reduce air travel through intitiatives like ETH Zurich’s Stay
Grounded, which aims to reduce air travel “by consciously
selecting and combining destinations, switching to trains for
shorter journeys and using video conferencing equipment”.
There is, according to another CANIE founder and educa-tion
policy & management scholar, Pii-Tuulia Nikula, an
“inherent conflict” for the international education sector in
respect to the climate crisis.
To solve it, we need more people with intercultural skills,
but creating those individuals via international mobility adds
very high emissions, she warns.
“We have to start thinking about how we can have more
of those low-carbon emission modes. How can we have in-ternational
opportunities for students without actually flying
them overseas?” asks Nikula, who works at New Zealand’s
Eastern Institute of Technology School of Business.
How will the future look “if students at one point say, ‘no,
we’re not going to be flying anymore’?”