Business schools navigate a tough carbon path

Business schools navigate a tough carbon path

Before you move from Singapore to Paris this summer, to become IssykDean of Pre-Experience Programs Professor Aarti Ramaswamy weighed all the pros and cons of moving her family and property between two continents — even to the point of tabulating it in a spreadsheet.

Eventually, she boarded the plane, but says she wants her students to be just as self-aware: assess alternatives and carbon footprints before making their travel choices.

Essec is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of student travel in programs including the Master of Management (MiM) by 30 percent in three years.

“Part of the student experience and journey is getting an international experience, however student travel and commuting is one of the higher sources of the carbon footprint within the school,” says Ramaswamy. “We are making a very conscious effort to reduce that.”

These efforts include a “climate mural” workshop that most students complete at the start of their programs. Ramaswami also plans to motivate students to choose more local destinations for field trips, exchanges and internships, giving a bigger budget to students who choose locations that require less travel.

But what isn’t likely to change, Ramaswamy says, is the option to spend time studying at another campus – ISIC has two in France, one in Morocco and one in Singapore. “That’s why many students choose to come to Essec, so we can’t put restrictions on them,” she says.

The pressure on business schools to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from travel comes from all directions. There are national climate targets, universities and schools have their own sustainability strategies and there is “bottom-up” activity from student climate clubs. Faculty members also check their flying habits before they sign up for academic conferences.

But the near-cessation of overseas travel during the pandemic has also led to significant pent-up demand once restrictions are lifted – so-called “retaliatory travel”.

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This presents a dilemma for all higher education institutions that market their programs as “international,” but they also need to demonstrate their commitment to carbon neutrality. A survey of 44 UK universities earlier this year found that 53 per cent were not considering a change of student destinations for overseas studies and work placement, while 46 per cent said they had already made or are considering such a change.

The story is similar among business schools. in ESCPMiM students will continue to have the opportunity to work abroad for the internship phase of the programme, says Leon Laulsa, Dean of Academic and International Affairs, as they continue to demonstrate a strong interest in international experience. In 2021, 90% of ESCP students underwent an internship outside their home country – up from 81% in 2020, but more importantly they beat pre-pandemic numbers as well.

“We’ve noticed that students today are more motivated to go far,” Laolsa says. “We have never received this many requests for exchange programs outside of Europe – to Asia, the United States and South America.”

Some schools tend to have higher demand. in Neuma In France, Dean Delphine Manseau says her school will “continue to defend its commitment to international experience”. This year, Neoma has added 18 more academic partners to its network of nearly 400 universities and schools around the world that MiM students can visit on academic exchanges. It also gives master’s students access to its global network of business incubators, giving young entrepreneurs the opportunity to pursue their business ideas abroad for an additional six months. Neoma encourages students to travel by train rather than by plane if possible, and runs events to raise awareness of this problem.

“The desire to go abroad to study is still there,” agrees Celine Voss, Director of Programs at Grenoble School of Management. “The appeal of international study trips remains high and includes value in MiM, for both academic and cultural reasons,” she says. However, in Grenoble, study trips must be taken at the regional level and flights are only approved if the railways are impractical.

Travel remains an essential part of the educational journey, says Anna Cockcroft, director of master’s programs at Esade in Barcelona. “For a global mindset and skills, students need to explore different cultures and meet at different levels by studying abroad,” she says. “Recruiters continue to evaluate profiles by being able to easily adapt to different environments, with flexibility to travel and communicate around the world.”

She adds that international study trips are optional but are popular with students who consider them to be a highlight of the year.

Returning to Essec, Ramaswamy says she believes squaring student demand for travel with carbon commitments is not so much a problem as it is a valuable exercise. “Every school faces this challenge of balancing educational goals with the cultural experience and finding a sustainable solution,” she says. “But it is important that we are constantly challenged by our students, our graduates, our business partners and our employees. This is what will keep us relevant.”

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