Is being international problematic for sustainability?

by team INSUS – Internationalising Sustainability


This blog entry primarily touches upon the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs;

Sustainablity goals

Joint master programmes and international projects as a source of emissions

Apart from being a massive industry, business travel and tourism – also in the form of e.g. conferences and symposia globally – form a vivid part of researcher and student academic life and professional development. Face to face is the most engaging way for collaboration and meaningful discussions, but travel, in particular air travel, creates emissions. Often, due to lack of time or lack of funds, the choice of transport are still airplanes. However, the overall impact on e.g. biodiversity of different modes of travel is not completely straightforward, and for instance train travel (high-speed rails in particular) should be considered also in terms of the whole infrastructure needed for its construction and maintenance (Cornet, Dudley & Banister, 2018).

Recently, joint masters programmes have become increasingly common. For example, the Erasmus Mundus programmes have funded and continue funding prestigious double degrees, where students spend a part of their studies at different universities. These programmes aim to further the integration of European higher education (Papatsiba, 2014), but also necessitate travel between sites involved. As joined programs have been created for the goals of integration and cooperation, the sustainability of the modes of work have rarely been addressed.

Certain kinds of technological, digital solutions are needed to make joint programmes and inter-university learning modules communicatively meaningful and authentic. For instance, one member of our team has an EU-funded, EIT project where learning modules in circular economy are created and shared between technical universities in 5 European countries. Already at the planning phases of the project in 2018, the intent was to find new ways that enable student interaction without the (obviously hard-to-fulfill) need to fly between the participating countries, north and south. As part of the solution, Virtual and Mixed Realities (VR, MR) were considered (Sandström et al., 2020). However, even in a situation where multi-player VR is nowadays possible as such, the resources required for setting it up for the course purposes are often lacking or scarce.

Recently, some foundations have started to give grants to support the extra costs of sustainable modes of travel, but is travel always necessary? It is not simple deciding what the solution in terms of travel during a course should be.

Being international locally

The University of Helsinki includes over twenty foreign languages in the BA degree programs. In this regard, the Department of Languages could be viewed as a small whole world within a university in Helsinki, as teaching a variety of languages used by both large and tiny populations in all the continents. Learning a foreign language brings its culture and society to the learner’s mind, so that the education may yield a global citizen who is capable to handle sustainability issues in a multicultural context, being active online at home, with more communicative attitude. Lack of communication, especially on global level, could cause prejudice which might be developed to form a nationalism. Cliffon & Haigh (2018) states that “education helps learners recognize that humans are stronger and happier when they work together.” Foreign language education at a local institute may enhance international cooperation and collaboration, interdependence, diversity, cultural tolerance, etc. by equipping the learners with linguistic and socio-cultural capacity.

The value of local knowledge and traditions

As such, sustainability is often perceived as being universal for any country setting. In practice, the definition is sufficiently open to be flexibly adopted to the local needs and contexts.  The challenge is to integrate and translate this flexibility into education, especially in the joint master’s programmes, where students are exposed to the teaching from multiple country settings. Often, the dominant view of sustainability is the vision inspired by Western standards of living, corresponding challenges of wealthier lifestyles and solutions via more sustainable production of more sustainable goods. But in many locations around the world aside technology and product innovations, there exist many everyday practices inspired by the local environment, traditional knowledge and frugal thinking. For example, Vergara et al. (2016) measure the informal traditional reuse of textiles in Bogota, Colombia and estimate it to be much more efficient in terms of reduced GHG emissions as compared to formal recycling or landfilling. Learning about such local practices is equally valuable for advancing sustainability, and learning about them is of great importance not only for promoting environmental sustainability, but also supporting the cultural dimension of sustainability, and contributing to social equity by considering how these traditional practices could be integrated to national economies.

Consider the international programme as a change maker?

One way of approaching the teaching and learning modules is to use three perspectives: systemic, socio-cultural, and longevity. The module could be seen a process and an outcome – a product. Transforming the modules and, eventually, the programme so that it is based on not only user-centric but planet-centric principles, can be achieved through certain steps. The content of the steps can be negotiated locally and glocally, and used as learning tasks in the programme.

Some guidelines towards planet-centric outcomes and processes might be the following (see

  • Align the programme goals, where possible, with the SDGs
  • Design the goals with the institutions involved, in a planet-centric way
  • Test and iterate the approaches to improve the programme over time
  • Evaluate and create a road map for the micro goals, making progress visible and understandable

Setting actionable, accessible and understandable micro goals whose fulfillment can be measured and evaluated makes the task more feasible. The action points should also be geared toward building and communicating a vision for sustainability, the core elements of which are embedded in the participating organisations’ strategies and missions. Internationalising sustainability starts with the participants, the owners of the intellectual property of the learning modules.


Cliffon & Haigh 2018: Internationalisation of the curriculum comes of age –

Cornet, Y., Dudley, G., Banister, D., 2018. High speed rail: Implications for carbon emissions and biodiversity. Case Stud. Transp. Policy 6 (3), 376–390.

Papatsiba, V. Policy Goals of European Integration and Competitiveness in Academic Collaborations: An Examination of Joint Master’s and Erasmus Mundus Programmes. High Educ Policy 27, 43–64 (2014).

Sandström, N., Nevgi, A., Betten, T., Balkenende, A.R., Danese, P., Danese, Graf, R., Grönman, K., Holopainen, J. & Olsen, S.I. (2020). Excellence in education requires excellence in collaboration: learning modules in circular economy as platforms for transdisciplinary learning. A paper accepted to be presented at the 10th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD2020), University of Cork, Ireland.

Vergara, S.E., Damgaard, A., Gomez, D., 2016. The Efficiency of Informality: Quantifying GHG Reductions from Informal Recycling in Colombia. Journal of Industrial Ecology 20 (1), 107-119.


Online sources

Planet-Centric design:

United Nations Sustainable Development:


Internationalization drives the individuals and institutions to achieve their best

Written by the group Anonymous Dinosaurs
Risto Koivula, Ganapati Sahoo, Karmen Kapp, Kaarina Aitamurto


Internationalisation of higher education and research is a growing phenomenon with increasing global interdependence (de Wit, 2020). Integrating international languages and intercultural aspects into the teaching, research and services of the university has become not only necessary but also unavoidable to a certain degree. Even though internationalisation of higher education brings additional tasks for the existing systems, the benefits certainly outweigh the challenges. Keeping a positive approach to this process would help us achieve a leader position in current globalized society. Here we look at the benefits of internationalization from perspectives of development of personnel, research activities and cultural awareness in the community at the universities.


The thirst of knowledge and joy and excitement of finding something new has been a major driver for human evolution. Accepting the differences, e.g., in customs, tradition and appearance enables a safe place for interaction – essential for equal intercommunication.

Taking cultural differences into a daily life of a research group enriches thought patterns of solving problems and gives a variety of paths to fulfil the research goal.

Slow is faster – the slightly slower communication between groups members was in fact faster when examined in terms of meeting the research goals. Reasons for this may be found in communication strategies that favour interactive strategies (asking questions, self-disclosure) between intercultural communications since passive strategies (observation) (Berger, 1975)  may lead to false interpretation based to cultural differences, for example, different meanings of looking in the eyes during discourse.

No longer one can take things for granted when working in a multicultural environment. This puts one in a position where more thinking, i.e., time is consumed in the communication that in turn makes it more precise and usually allows more equality between the parties.

Knowing and sharing the common goal of the research group is of course the cornerstone of successful group dynamics. To understand and to affect these issues explicit communication is essential in creating an atmosphere of trust, self-assurance and equality, i.e., a perfect platform for success.


Present and future of scientific research heavily relies on collaboration among multiple international resources. In such a scenario, adapting to internationalization in a research work environment is as beneficial as it is essential.

Academic exchanges among universities and international collaborations strengthens the ties among countries. It provides international education experience to both domestic and foreign students and expands their academic mobility and enhances network building capability to establish future collaborations (Delgado-Marquez et al. 2011; Jibeen and Khan, 2015).

Internationalization is a key aspect in the development of the faculty and students at higher education institutes. While it attracts the best minds, resulting in a better educational environment and higher academic quality, it also partly opens up an additional revenue generation opportunity for the universities not only by running international degree programs but also because the international oriented staff is more likely to receive grants from different international funding programs (Bedenlier and Zawaki-Richter, 2015).

Internationalization of research groups enables members to have access to novel research materials such as articles, patents in diverse languages (Bedenlier and Zawaki-Richter, 2015). It also allows members to work in international laboratories, use data from different experimental facilities and most importantly, to join the effort in addressing problems of global interest.

In regular operations of the research groups the asset of many different working cultures at disposal is a significant advantage. Many situations generate different kinds of responses from which the best practices could be withdrawn.

Working in international groups facilitates students to improve their skills and perspectives, fosters them in growing as a scholar with wider vision and enables them to cater to the global needs and issues.

Culture and social life

In Universities, the lingua franca in international collectives is usually English (Lau and Lin, 2017; de Wit, 2020) and it can be asked whether academic communities often present a kind of bubbles, separate from the society.  However, having other international colleagues in the collective may provide peer support for learning the new language and for integrating to the new society (Bedenlier and Zawaki-Richter, 2015). Cultural diversity also creates an inclusive atmosphere where individuals feel that they are accepted as they are.

Working or studying abroad undoubtedly provides new perspectives for people, but so does working or studying in international collectives in one’s home country. These introduce people to alternative ways of thinking, interaction and doing things (Delgado-Marquez et al. 2011). Learning from other cultures and becoming familiar with new customs allows people to reflect their own habits, values and norms from a new angle. Thus, the international environment has a great potential to make one more open-minded and accustomed to adapt to different environments. In consequence, international collectives prepare students also for working abroad and for international careers.



de Wit, H. (2020). Internationalization of Higher Education. Journal of International Students, 10(1), i-iv. Retrieved from:

Lau K.; Lin, C.-Y. (2017). Internationalization of Higher Education and language Policy: the case of bilingual university in Taiwan. Higher Education, 74: 437-454. Retrieved from:

Bedenlier, S., Zawaki-Richter, O. (2015). Internalization of Higher Education and the Impacts on Academic Faculty Members. Research in Comparative & International Education, 10(2), 185-201. Retrieved from:

Jibeen, T.; Khan, M. A. (2015).  Internalization of Higher Education: Potential Benefits and Costs. International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 4(4): 196-199. Retrieved from:

Delgado-Marquez, B. L.; Hurtado-Torres, N. E.; Bondar, Y. (2011). Internationalization of Higher Education: Theoretical and Empirical Investigation of Its Influence on University Institution Rankings”. In: “Globalisation and Internationalisation of Higher Education” [online monograph]. Revista e Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC). Vol. 8, No 2, pp. 265-284. Retrieved from:

Berger, C. R.; Calabrese, R. J. (1975). “Some Exploration in Initial Interaction and Beyond: Toward a Developmental Theory of Communication”. Human Communication Research. 1 (2): 99–112. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.1975.tb00258.x.

Making the best out of it! International collaboration for online teaching in pandemic times

Written by the group “International Collaboration for Online Education” (ICOE)


Online teaching and studies have become a new normal during the pandemic times. However, we saw developments regarding opportunities for online studies already before COVID-19 struck. Many universities offer courses, which nowadays can be taken online. For example, the University of Helsinki (as well as other universities) for some years already had several MOOC courses available for anyone to participate in. Universities have also collaborated both nationally and internationally to create education and learning platforms such as edX (, where universities and institutions offer MOOCs on various topics.

But, while MOOCs make teaching available for also others than registered university students, and while they have other positive effects, both pedagogically and technically, there are also limitations and difficulties with MOOCs (see, e.g., Korpela 2020). This is why MOOCs cannot and will not be the only option and solution when considering international online education in the future.

Just one of many other options is to create and consolidate international teaching support networks. Namely, the pandemic accelerated the exchange of – online – guest lectures within courses offered at various international universities. That is, as one possible answer to the new situation of teaching being shifted to online spaces almost everywhere around the world, and in the spirit of making the best out of an impairment, we now witness an increased sharing of teaching expertise, worldwide. It now seems easier and more sensible and common to invite colleagues from far away universities, to be part of one class and thus enrich the entire course. This international exposure paired with the possibility to interact with the foremost experts on a certain topic has been very well received by students so far.

The COVID-19 crisis also encouraged teachers to experiment with novel methods and media in their online teaching. Textual and visual educational media can be complemented, for instance, with educational audio. Recent years have seen the exponential growth of the podcast as a medium of information, entertainment and popular education, but it has made little headway in the halls of academia. Yet the COVID-19 crisis might just change that. In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, educational audio expert Zachary Davis notes that podcasts have many benefits over journal articles as a medium of exchanging ideas: “Podcasting offers us ways of sharing scholarly discourse and teaching that are more open, accessible, and emotionally engaging.” The medium might be especially useful in the social sciences and the humanities, where the traditional visuals of an online lecture might distract the student from concentrating on argumentation. Podcasts based on a conversation can also offer a learning experience that is more dialogic than watching a lecturer address absent listeners.

Universities also develop approaches to allow students to study at international universities in the future. One example is UNA Europa (, a collaboration of eight European universities to create an European inter-university (University of Helsinki joined in October 2019). In this way, it would be possible for students to take courses from the member universities without the need to do an exchange period, and even complete degrees from the UNA Europa University. The process towards this University of Future is still in progress, but it is possible for students from UNA Europa member universities to take courses at the University of Helsinki even now, see

Now that physical exchanges are cancelled, the University of Helsinki is encouraged to arrange virtual mobility (VM) options for its own students and to attract international ones. While planning virtual learning activities, the teachers should be aware of students’ expectations for VM. VM certainly fails to provide the same kind of rich and holistic experience compared to physical exchange, and the main motivations of students are linked to the topic of the course and the good reputation of the institution offering the course (Buiskool and Hudepohl 2020). However, many students also expect VM to provide exposure to intercultural experiences such as opportunities to learn and network with participants from another culture. Building courses that support intercultural learning and collaboration requires planning and cooperation between universities (Buiskool and Hudepohl 2020). For instance, it might be necessary to have teachers facilitating the group discussions, to allow a safe environment for the online learners to discuss and debate in virtual, real-time settings. In addition, there are many administrative aspects, such as registration and fees, timetable overlaps, recognition of the VM modules in degree programmes, technical support etc., that need to be addressed early in the process.

Overall, the current world situation will very likely accelerate the development of online studying possibilities, and encourage universities to further develop and increase cooperation networks, platforms and tools for studying and teaching, together.


Alvarez, Maximillian: “Podcast University”. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 30 April 2020 (

Buiskool, B.-J. and Hudepohl, M., 2020. Research for CULT Committee – Virtual formats versus physical mobility – Concomitant expertise for INI report. European Parliament, Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies, Brussels. (cited 8.10.2020) (cited 8.10.2020)

Korpela, M., 2020. Avointa ja ilmaista korkeakoulutusta kaikille? Aikuiskasvatus 40(2), 140-146.

The topics of the group works

The participants of the university pedagogy course YA2 Internationalisation and collaborative environment in higher education (5 cr) will write blog posts as a part of their group work.

A total of 31 academics participates in the course and they work in seven groups for deepening their knowledge and understanding of the challenges of internationalisation, multilingualism and diversity in higher education. At the first ZOOM -meeting 15th September, the groups have agreed the name for their group and selected the following topics / themes for their further study:

The benefits of cultural diversity to group dynamics and research output is studied by the group Anonymous Dinosaurs.

Homogenious diversity – Formal or informal perspectives and practices in groupwork is studied by the group The Kontula-Gårdsbacka Team.

Internationalizing education at UH – why? is studied by the group Punavihreät.

Ryhmätyön mahdollisuudet ja haasteet kansainvälisessä oppimisympäristössä – teemaa tutkii ryhmä Rennosti kolmella kielellä.

International collaboration for online education is researched by the group ICOE – International Collaboration for Online Education.

The group YA2-IntegratingEquality decided to investigate following topics:  (1) Equal in the teaching work load, and (2) Integrating internationalization in teaching: pros & cons.

The group INSUS: Internationalizing sustainability has decided to focus on the following research question: What challenges does the international environment propose to sustainability education?

The blog posts will be published in language chosen by the group. The first posts will be published at beginning of October 2020.