Pathways towards responsible international mobility

04.06.2020 World Environment Day (WED) today is a good opportunity to think about the mobility/sustainability nexus, not least because this issue appears to confront universities with a classic goal conflict.

Transnational mobility is a key component of Switzerland’s education policy toolkit, for it facilitates the acquisition of international, intercultural, language and technical skills. In this way, education and culture are utilised as mechanisms to promote civic engagement, shared values and intercultural awareness – attributes that are essential for sustainable solutions to global problems. 

Mobility and cooperation are also fundamental to the internationalisation of universities and do much to enhance their quality, attractiveness and capacity to innovate. Unsurprisingly, then, both the EU, with its Erasmus+ funding programme, and Switzerland, with its Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP), are in favour of increasing international mobility. 

But there is a downside to transnational mobility: mobility in general and air travel in particular have harmful environmental impacts. In Switzerland alone, aviation accounts for 20 per cent of carbon emissions and the figure is still rising. Aircraft noise and air pollution generate further substantial costs. And unlike other industries, there is still no prospect of a new technology that would facilitate more climate-compatible aviation. 

What action can be taken by a university such as the BFH – which is committed to promoting mobility and sustainable development as strategic objectives and has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2040 – to reach these two goals? 

Within the EU, Erasmus+ is increasingly evolving into a “green” Erasmus+ that encourages participants to travel more sustainably. In the 2021-2027 programming period, it will provide mechanisms that enable students, researchers and staff to engage in international collaboration in a more sustainable manner. 

Movetia – Switzerland’s national agency for the promotion of exchanges and mobility in the education system – has also looked at ways of increasing international mobility while reducing the ecological footprint. Among other things, it is seeking to raise awareness among target groups in order to reconcile the growth objectives set out in the internationalisation strategies with environmental goals. Mobility is to be planned in such a way that the benefits outweigh the costs. 

At the start of the year, the BFH adopted a mobility policy whose purpose is make mobility more effective. It defines a range of measures to be implemented over the coming years. An initial action is already being developed. Guidelines and recommendations will be set out in a strategy document that aims to reduce the BFH’s air travel-related emissions. With this approach, the BFH is not only complying with the regulations adopted by the Canton of Bern, which state that air travel should be avoided wherever possible or offset otherwise (Personnel Ordinance (Personalverordnung) Art. 109); it is also laying the ground for responsible mobility of its staff and students. 

With these pathways towards responsible international mobility, our aim is to advance both the internationalisation and the sustainability of the BFH.

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Category: International