International student collaboration supports sustainability

There are numerous benefits to international collaboration between universities for research, teaching, and engagement.

But collaboration, particularly when it involves students and academics travelling around the world, also has impacts on sustainability and our global ecosystems. So how can we still retain the benefits of international collaboration while taking a sustainable approach, and how can universities become leaders in sustainability across the world?

The Global Partnership Conference is aiming to help answer this question. The conference virtually brings together higher education institutions from around the world to see how universities can be sustainable while still growing and sharing their expertise across the world.

As part of the conference, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Sussex, and the University of California Santa Cruz are partnering up to make sure student voices are included in the conversation about making their universities more sustainable and making sustainability a central part of their everyday activities.

Students from Victoria University of Wellington’s Wellington International Leadership Programme are working together with students from the other universities to come up with a video and a digital presentation on their ideas about how universities can be more sustainable, as well as what challenges they think universities will face when trying to do this. They have also been challenged to come up with ideas on how universities can collaborate internationally on sustainable initiatives. The Victoria University of Wellington students will then act as ambassadors for the University when presenting their ideas together with the other students at the Global Partnership Conference.

“This is a novel initiative encouraging international collaboration between students, which encourages cultural and international engagement, critical thinking, and an awareness of globalised education,” says Veronica Pot, one of the students taking part. “I wanted to participate to develop collaborative skills and further my understanding of the impact of internationalised higher education.”

Andrew Wilks, Director, Sustainability, and Linsell Richards, head of the Wellington International Leadership Programme (WILP), are organising the University’s part in this initiative.

“This is an opportunity for students to collaborate and learn from their peers around the world,” Mr Wilks says. “It also provides that important student perspective at the conference, and there may also be the opportunity to share their presentations at other conferences after this.”

It also helps create close links with the University of Sussex and the University of California Santa Cruz and to foster international collaboration and innovation, he says.

“Internationalisation in education offers a number of benefits, and it’s a key driver for universities everywhere, but the sustainability impacts of it haven’t been that prominent to date,” Mr Wilks says. “The digital aspect of this conference is also a great example of how collaboration and progress on sustainability goals can still happen even in this age of physical distancing.”

“This project is a great example of the kind of ‘internationalisation at home’ experience the WILP programme provides for students, and the kind of student leadership it aims to support. Students are obviously having these conversations all the time, so it’s great we can help ensure their voices are heard at these kinds of fora and formally recognise that effort along the way,” Linsell says.

“The project is also sparking more ideas for sustainable future collaborations with overseas students and partner institutions, which are all the more relevant given the restrictions on travel likely to be in place for some time to come.”

“This project is just one way I hope to move things from sustainability talk to sustainability action, from 'environment, climate change and sustainability is a hot topic...everyone's talking about it' to 'we are becoming more sustainable and within this period of time we have achieved this many sustainability goals,” says Karan Narayan, Victoria University of Wellington student. “Sustainability is a priority, not just something to create good publicity.

“I wanted to take part in this initiative as it complements my Master of Climate Change Science and Policy programme, especially during a time like this when we can't attend classes and I’m finding it difficult to connect productively on causes I care about through things like volunteering and so on because of lockdown.”

The students are also having the opportunity to upskill their videography skills, working with Nando Azavedo, Production Manager in the University’s Image Services department, who is running a series of videography skills workshops for the students.

The student presentation will be shared at the conference in June.