Work / Life Ecologies

Air Travel and Internationalization

airplane wing

Why do academics fly so much? What is it about academia, or the university sector in general, that makes flying such a normal part of the work life? And what can be done to reduce the amount of air travel that academics undertake?
In an article to be published in a forthcoming edition of Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy, we explore the reasons why flying has come to be such an integral part of academia in Australia.
We find that specific strategic goals and policies oriented toward internationalization mean that air travel has become desirable, necessary, and highly normalized in academic life. As Australian universities seek to be competitive in a globalized education and research market, air travel is encouraged by institutions – despite any sustainability claims to the contrary.
Australian academics are likely to feel compelled to fly to international conferences to create wide impact for their work, and to forge international collaborations with researchers abroad. These measures of academic success inevitably entail air travel – and are highly carbon intensive.
Australian universities are increasingly recruiting academic staff from a global pool of internationally mobile candidates. International student recruitment is also increasingly important for Australian universities, and often requires air travel for recruitment purposes. Australian universities are establishing ‘outpost’ campuses, to access these student markets and international sources of funding.
The paper also discusses the potential for ‘low carbon academia’, from virtual collaboration to more localized forms of scholarship.

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