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Sector must raise its sustainability ambitions

The international education sector should raise its ambitions and confront sustainability and ecological problems it is partially responsible for, industry stakeholders at The PIE Live have suggested.

Universities are looking to divest in fossil fuels, and switch to renewable energy sources, including the University of Auckland where 84% of the electricity supplied in 2019 was renewable. Photo: pexels

"What if as a sector we raised our ambitions and started putting more efforts collectively into that?"

Students are driving the sustainability agenda by looking for specialised courses and want to make a good impact on the global environment, a panel of experts said.

“[Students] really want to understand the environment”

“My impression from working with pretty much all the Australian universities and Auckland in New Zealand is that our students really want this,” said Brad Dorahy, founder and executive director at CISaustralia.

“They really want to understand the environment. They really want in the main to make a positive impact.”

“We’ve been talking a lot about aeroplanes and carbon footprints… Kids are really passionate,” said John Hardy, co-founder of the Green School Bali catering for K-12 students, as he relayed a story of a UK student who travelled to the school in South East Asia by train.

“The student said to his father, ‘dad, I can’t go to the green school on an aeroplane’. He travelled the Trans-Siberian railroad overland all the way to Bali.

“It took two and a half weeks for him to get to school. And he lived near the school and only rode a bicycle,” Hardy said.

“Our students are really into the engagement and that engagement can [be] wide-ranging,” agreed vice provost and dean, Global Affairs at UC Davis, Joanna Regulska.

“We see this incredible interest in leadership and living and learning communities in the residential dorms working around different sustainable development goals.”

In New Zealand, there’s a lot of activism around some of these global issues, director International at the University of Auckland Brett Berquist shared.

“New Zealand has a very green image… [Sustainability] is a very common part of the fabric of the conversation and social life here at the student level, of course,” he said.

The university’s global studies degree, which was launched three years ago, had to cap its numbers due to the high demand, Berquist noted.

“More students are really seeking out experiences that help them to focus on [sustainability]. They’re bringing interest to the university and then trying to find a community that helps them advance of thinking in that space.”

The problem of climate change is “an amazing learning opportunity where you can look at your personal versus systemic impact”, Ailsa Lamont, director and founder of Pomegranate Global and CANIE co-founder, added.

“More students are really seeking out experiences that help them to focus on [sustainability]”

“You can think laterally and creatively about what the different types of solutions can be. You can have people from all kinds of discipline and backgrounds working together, and you can get domestic and international students working together,” she said.

While the focus is often placed on students, professionals in international education can also add value to their lives via working on climate change solutions, Lamont continued.

“What if as a sector we raised our ambitions and started putting more efforts collectively into that? That could be something that I think people could really get behind,” she added.

“We need to get the leadership of the institutions because we don’t have much time. They’re the ones with hands on the budget strings.

“So what can we do collectively as a sector to really influence those people who can make the changes on the campuses where they’re not happening?” she said.

“There is this conundrum around going overseas to learn more about what’s going on [there]… You have to hop on a plane most of the time,” Dorahy noted.

“We need to think very carefully about how do we offset that. So how do we choose the right airlines? How do we do what we do locally? How do we deal with plastic? How do we deal with planting trees?”

“How do we educate people from our country in the countries we visit to say ‘this is what we’re doing’ and then turn around and listen and see what’s going on in Indonesia, in the USA, in New Zealand.

“There is a sort of circular education process going on. That’s what I would say, my impressions of what our students are really hungry for,” he added.

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