Academic mobility is considered as a normal and desirable phenomenon for a knowledge circulation propitious to innovation and development. Scholars’ exchanges (students, teaching staff, and R&D S&E) have thus been encouraged with expectations of cross fertilisation and economic growth.
However, conditions have dramatically changed recently with potentially major impacts on mobility: universalisation of higher education in the global south, the advent of the SDGs as a compass for international cooperation, the emerging sustainability science as an overall agenda for scholarly institutions. Demographic, diplomatic and epistemic issues are thus questioning the traditional views about mobility. The lab debate addressed these in their socio-economic, environmental and geopolitical dimensions.
During the session, the speakers presented their research on academic mobility and its impact on today’s challenges, with particular regard to our carbon footprint. The data presented by the IRD showed that three-quarters of emissions produced by academics came from attending short-term meetings, such as conferences, abroad. The audience suggested that spending longer amounts of time abroad for research purposes can be more favourable than taking short trips. It was also pointed out that it is important to avoid only sending senior researchers to attend conferences as this would limit opportunities for junior researchers. Virtual mobility was also brought to participants’ attention as it can reach more students across the world. Finally, it was noted that COVID-19 showed that knowledge mobility is possible and, as such, ‘brain drain’ can be converted into ‘brain gain’ if the adequate policies are put in place.