Uncertain futures: climate change and international student mobility in Europe

Robin A Shields*, Tianqi Lu

*Corresponding author for this work

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

1 Citation (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


The rapid growth of international student mobility has attracted much research on the many benefits it offers to students, higher education institutions, and societies in general. However, studies on the costs and potential tribulations caused by mobility are comparatively rare, despite increasing evidence of such costs inherent in the marketization of higher education. Furthermore, the few existing studies are predominantly framed in terms of consumerism and the commodification of education, but they give less attention to mobility in the context of wider social issues. The climate crisis is foremost among such social impacts, with the extensive air travel inherent in global mobility patterns causing significant damage, combined with curricula, pedagogies, and institutional strategy that are either ambivalent or contradictory on the climate crisis. This paper examines international student mobility in European higher education to better understand how the environmental costs of higher education can be conceptualized in policy and practice. It contrasts policies and practices that promote international student mobility in Europe—in which mobility has aspects of what are commonly referred to as “public goods”—with initiatives that promote mobility to Europe, which illustrate a historic and ongoing entanglement between European colonialism, higher education, and climate change. It concludes with reflections on possibilities for greater sustainability in international student mobility in Europe.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHigher Education
Early online date19 Apr 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Green Erasmus project is one example of such a program: financially supported by the Erasmus + program of the European Commission, the project is run by a consortium that includes HEIs, the Erasmus Student Network, the European Students’ Union, and other organizations. Its activities focus on raising awareness of sustainable travel options among students and staff and understanding sustainable behaviours of students participating in Erasmus mobility.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


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