21 Mar 2022 UUKi publications
21 Mar 2022 UUKi publications
12 Nov 2021 UUKi blog
12 Nov 2021 UUKi blog
Last updated on Wednesday 20 Apr 2022 on 5:14pm
Are we now living in a state of perpetual crisis? At times it feels that way to me, and it can be exhausting.
The Brexit referendum result, the unsettling geopolitical machinations, the Trump presidency, Covid-19 – for those of us who work in higher education, our day jobs have been impacted by global events in ways that would have seemed unthinkable ten years ago.
The beady-eyed among you will have noticed that my list doesn’t include the climate crisis, which is one of the biggest threats of our time. As the World Health Organisation states, “climate change is impacting human lives and health in a variety of ways.” This includes universities, with the impacts becoming more prominent year by year. And while the international higher education sector is getting better at reacting to crises – there are Crisis Response teams, Risk Committees, insurance renewals, joint sector collaboration groups aplenty – we felt it was not clear how the sector is being impacted by, and is responding to, the climate crisis.
For this reason, UUKi ran a survey of Pro-Vice-Chancellors International (or equivalent) and our report into the findings has just been published. The aim was to understand more about the extent to which international and sustainability strategies are linked within institutions, and to find out what practical actions are being taken as a result of the climate crisis. 44 institutions covering all four UK nations responded.
It was encouraging to find that 95.4% of respondents told us that climate action and carbon reduction are very or extremely important to them, and that 86.3% either already link their international strategies to their sustainability strategies or are planning to do so.
When it comes to specific activities related to international student recruitment, outward student mobility, transnational education and research, change was reported across the board.
We asked respondents how different areas of their international strategies have been affected. The results showed that all areas are affected, with a majority to a fair or significant degree.
The biggest impact has been felt in outward student mobility, but it is clear that the consequences of Covid-19 in moving to a greater focus on virtual mobility as an option is a significant driver 100% of respondents have introduced virtual collaboration with international partners to replace some physical mobility and plan to or are considering keeping it that way.
As for international student recruitment, change is similarly underway. 50% of respondents told us that there is an increased importance of virtual rather than physical support from academics during recruitment events, and 32.5% now place more importance on having a staff presence overseas.
When it comes to transnational education, over two thirds of respondents told us that the climate crisis plays an important role (to differing degrees) in their discussions with potential partners and in the research space, 74.4% of respondents said that they already have or are planning to introduce an emissions-focused policy for research-related travel (with a perhaps surprising 25.6% saying they had no plans to introduce this).
But the sense of crisis is perhaps harder to identify than some of those other crises that are perceived as more ‘immediate’. The table below shows how respondents view the impact of the climate crisis on their international strategy looking forward. 45.5% see a significant impact in five years’ time, which perhaps isn’t indicating crisis mode just yet.
Nonetheless, this is not a small number, and there are barriers to taking further action. 61.4% said there is a difficulty in setting a ‘one size fits all’ policy within an institution, 45.5% are grappling with the tension between high demand from students for outward mobility opportunity while addressing carbon emissions, and 43.2% talk of a lack of coordination of outgoing travel plans between different departments.
The climate crisis, like the others, will affect us all, eventually. And it’s undoubtedly true that the international nature of higher education could make a huge contribution towards finding solutions to this and all the other crises, through the ability to meet people in person, to build trust and understanding, and to learn from each other. The challenge for the sector is to balance those benefits with an understanding of the cost to the planet. A lack of available data and insight and a way of making reasonable comparisons hampers progress.
So, what next? UUKi is actively engaging with colleagues to understand the key challenges faced by institutions and to identify priorities for further insight. Meanwhile, we are in regular discussion with the Climate Action Network for International Educators and with the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC) who are doing much good work on Aligning Sector Emissions. The six case studies that accompany our report provide some inspiration and we will be building on these with more in the coming months. This is a crisis that isn’t going to go away, but with a concerted collective effort, and the goodwill that already exists to find solutions, we must hope that the worst effects of it can be avoided.