Conflicting principles and emerging practices in international higher education in the era of climate crisis (COPE) 

As the world grapples with the reality of the climate crisis, this three-year qualitative research project seeks to redefine how international higher education (IHE) can be conducted sustainably in an era where climate change demands our international collaboration.

Over the next three years, I am committed to unravelling the complexities of IHE, examining its links to unsustainable practices and exploring the path toward an ecologically and socially sustainable future.

By applying nexus analysis, the concept of ecojustice, and pragmatic sociology, this research provides a multidisciplinary and activist-oriented approach to stimulate the change towards eco-socially sustainable IHE at Finnish higher education institutions.

The current landscape of ecosocial IHE: a call for change

International higher education (IHE) has long been embedded with carbon-intensive activities, such as increasing the number of cross-border students, mobility of academics, and other for-profit and non-profit education services targeted at international actors, and therefore, IHE has complex ties to unsustainable social and economic models. At the same time, there is a clear scientific consensus that the climate crisis has been affecting everyone’s lives for generations and that the overuse of natural resources has already threatened the quality of life.

Recognising this imperative, international recommendations and national higher education policies underscore the pivotal role higher education plays in climate adaptation. IHE, with its global capacity building and knowledge transformation, becomes a key player in societal efforts to tackle climate change.

At the same time, recent studies reveal a conflict of goals within higher education institutions, highlighting the struggle between sustainability goals and institutional goals. The role of Finnish IHEs as drivers of eco-social development remains unexplored, even though sustainable development is a core value in the national higher education policy. In addition, Finnish higher education institutions have yet to fully take advantage of international platforms such as CANIE, which can limits their potential for global impact in sustainable IHE. My research aims to fill this gap by providing a comprehensive analysis of the role of Finnish IHE in addressing the climate crisis.

Unveiling the Future: Research Questions

This research is guided by the following research questions:

  • How is climate crisis recognised in international higher education at Finnish higher education institutions?
  • What principles and practices foster or complicate eco-socially sustainable international higher education?
  • What are the potential futures of eco-social international higher education?

As I delve into these questions, CoPE-project aspires to illuminate pathways towards a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient future for international higher education.