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The sustainability of international higher education: Student mobility and global climate change

Updated: Jan 22

Journal of Cleaner Production, April 2019

International student at airport terminal about to take a flight overseas.


Much literature discusses higher education as an agent for sustainable development, but the extent to which higher education contributes to unsustainable economic and social systems receives less attention. This paper examines the environmental impacts of international student mobility and global climate change. Combining several datasets, the paper presents a model of greenhouse gas emissions associated with international student mobility. Estimates suggest that these emissions are substantial and are rising faster than overall global emissions, but the emissions per student are slowly decreasing, largely due to changes in the patterns of mobility. The paper concludes that although international exchange is increasingly important, a meaningful consideration of higher education for sustainable development should take account of environmental costs of international mobility alongside its benefits.


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