Like many industries in the world, international education finds itself at a critical crossroads.
The pandemic has permeated every industry, and IE, perhaps more so than most. IE practitioners are now examining and drastically changing long-standing business practices and company cultures to survive at a time when travel- the very core of the industry- all but came to a complete halt.
During this pause, environmental sustainability practices rose to the top of many discussions, and the industry as a whole has been taking deep dives into areas for improvement. Many of the industry's natural solutions to such limited travel also proved to be environmentally beneficial.
Now that borders have begun opening, and policies, rules, and restrictions exist, IE institutions and agents have many former student recruitment options back.
The industry is at the crossroads of "the way we've always done it" and "the way we can do it better."
"Those of us in international education have a specific duty to strive for sustainability because of the huge influence that the industry has on individuals, students, families, and communities," explained Carolina Cardoso, UK and Europe Country Manager for NexPay Pty Ltd.
Cardoso's sentiments are shared by many in the industry. CANIE is a grassroots initiative formed by international education practitioners committed to seeing IE adopt more sustainable practices.
According to CANIE, "The benefits of international student mobility are important and help develop the skills, attitudes, and connections we need to tackle this complex global problem, but we cannot turn a blind eye to its environmental costs. This must be factored into our policymaking and how we shape future models of delivery and operations."
The primary business of IE is to motivate and incentivize people and students from all over the world to travel and have an overseas experience.
In recent months, almost all education institutions have found the need to scale back their air travel and rely more heavily on virtual meetings and events due to the pandemic. In doing so, many saw how effective technology can be for student recruitment, as well as day to day business practices. Virtual conferences, Zoom meetings, video calls, and home offices became the norm for the IE community.
Companies like NexPay, with complete online platforms, entered the pandemic a step ahead of many of their counterparts. Employees working from home have the flexibility to work with clients all over the world. The company has long-offered online training for clients new to the platform and ongoing support via phone, chat, and over the internet. So when the pandemic hit, NexPay was able to continue operation with minimal disruption.
Now, looking beyond the pandemic and with a renewed industry focus on the environmental impact of IE, NexPay, along with many others, is looking at more ways to reduce its carbon footprint.
ICEF, a world leader in IE professional networking, training, and market intelligence, moved a number of its popular conferences online, highlighting a skill most professionals in the industry are already adept at using - remote work and digital communication. While this move was in response to the pandemic, the environmental impact did not go unnoticed. On the heels of NexPay's success attending the latest ICEF Virtual Latin America, the company continues to look for more virtual opportunities.
"Virtual conferences and trainings are a key part of our long-term sustainability plan," said Piew Yap, NexPay CEO. "Travel by IE professionals to recruit, make partnerships, engage in business practices, research, and exchange will always be a part of this industry, so the impact of our actions is our responsibility. We need a paradigm shift in how we do business with a focus on the environment while remaining profitable and effective."
While institutions and organizations in IE are looking for ways to be more environmentally responsible, students are calling for it. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are more likely to patronize businesses that actively create positive social and environmental change. According to Greenbiz, around 74 per cent of Gen Z consumers claim to have made major changes to be more environmentally friendly. Young people also report feeling ashamed if their lifestyle is not environmentally friendly.
What does this mean for international education?
"A holistic organizational program grounded in environmental sustainability will create and implement strategies that uses ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) metrics," explained Cardoso. "Plans can include; support staff, outside consultants, specialists, in-country representatives, less frequent but longer trips overseas, heavy reliance on digital platforms, and so on. Today we have different methods and tools that can be applied and help organizations and institutions be good stewards of the environment as well as profitable."
The IE industry has a huge role in sustainability - as an education tool and because of the massive influence it has on individuals, students, families, and communities. Simple and basic strategy changes, if embraced by the entire IE community have the potential to change the face of the current environmental crisis.