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Pandemic could be a chance for universities to go green


Institutions ‘should use coronavirus to rethink environmental strategies’

University leaders should use the rapid switch to digital working during the pandemic to “rethink” previous business models, according to experts on climate change.

Ailsa Lamont, director and founder of Pomegranate Global, which supports universities in taking action on climate change, told participants during a webinar that universities must “make a conscious effort to affect change” and become more sustainable.

“We have an opportunity right now with the pandemic to rethink our business models,” she said, adding that universities can “press the reset button to give ourselves a more sustainable sector” and address causes of emissions such as flying staff to overseas conferences. Lamont was speaking during a webinar for Universities UK’s International Higher Education Forum Online series.

Lamont added that there was a “competitive advantage” for institutions that try to make their international education strategies greener, and suggested universities track their carbon emissions from air travel and choose greener options when booking flights.

But Lamont cautioned that, while the disruption from the coronavirus pandemic should be used to think about “what…a good international education [is]”, universities should not be “barring the doors” to international students who want to travel to overseas campuses. Instead, international students should be taught how to live sustainably and to “think about the impact of their choices”.

Jim Longhurst, assistant vice-chancellor for environment and sustainability at the University of West England, explained that while there are “quite considerable environmental [drawbacks]” to international student travel, it was “critically important” financially for universities to be international institutions. Transnational education—where universities deliver education with partners overseas—could help universities deliver international programmes while keeping emissions lower, he said.

For staff travel, Longhurst said universities “should take this opportunity to be greener” and use experiences of attending conferences online during the pandemic to reset requirements in future. Rather than pushing academics to speak at conferences in-person, universities could be more flexible.

“We can still keep the criteria but how we deliver the outcome can vary,” he said, explaining that universities have “learned a great deal” about working online as the coronavirus pandemic halts international travel.

Research Professional News is UUK’s media partner for this event. This news is produced independently in line with our editorial policy.

This article also appeared in Research Fortnight