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

Robin Shields

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


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 in higher education. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)594 - 602
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date29 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2019

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education
  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations
  • SoE Educational Futures Network


  • Aviation
  • Climate change
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Higher education
  • Mobility
  • Sustainable development


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