Concept Note

Where do calls for more sustainability and inclusivity and an increase of student and scholar mobility in higher education meet? In conversations and in literature, buzz-phrases such as ‘responsible”, ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘inclusive’ internationalization at the university/college level exist, but how do these words translate into the global, national and institutional mobility programs and fit into a culture of collaboration and exchange?

Higher education institutions have long been a catalyst of international knowledge exchange with people and ideas crossing borders for hundreds of years. However, international mobility is increasingly challenged with global geopolitical tensions, economic strains, climate change concerns, a global pandemic, and systemic racism. This has prompted scholars and practitioners to question whether this is the decline of the internationalization of higher education as we know it or the beginning of a new era complete with new models of practice.

This virtual conference is an open forum that welcomes “multiple voices” to help build an understanding of the evolving status of mobility in Canada´s higher education and beyond, to critically reflect on where we are now, and to collectively build a future vision of international mobility within internationalization strategies and practices. With student mobility at focus while also looking into related mobility issues such as research collaborations and university partnerships, the discussion will focus on the challenges, benefits, impacts, and shifting nature of international mobility at educational institutions.

Discussions will include how the perception of education abroad is evolving in an era of climate change, global pandemics, and global geopolitical and economic strains; how to cultivate reciprocal, sustainable, and mutually beneficial mobility programs; and share innovative frameworks, policies and practices. This is an opportunity to share experiences with the wider national and international communities; learn from others’ experiences and initiate long term discussions and partnerships.

Overall conference themes:

  • Sustainable and responsible mobility – new paradigm or just paradox?
  • ‘All means all’ inclusive access to international exchange and collaboration
  • Practical approaches to innovation in higher education practices of student and scholar mobility

The Conference aims to:

  • Initiate a discussion with global perspectives on international education and sustainability (post COVID-19) by bringing together mobility experts and coordinators responsible for international services and exchange programs, as well as experts in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCED) with policymakers and other practitioners
  • Develop a Toronto 2021 York Declaration on responsible mobility in higher education: while recognizing the importance of international student and research mobility, higher education carries a responsibility to understand their impact in contexts of addressing both globalization and sustainability
  • Contribute to the future of international education and sustainability in a new era of global uncertainties (post COVID-19)
  • Bring forward international mobility discussions beyond student exchange to include innovative and inclusive global learning models and pedagogies whilst sharing a Canadian perspective(s) on internationalization and mobility
  • Develop a strategy for ongoing networking and sharing in research and capacity building within the field that will extend well beyond the Conference

Conference Themes


International mobility in practice: institutional, national, and regional responses.

What are successful examples for mobility programs for students and academics and what are potentially replicable aspects? How can such programs enhance the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? What are policies and frameworks that foster a more sustainable approach to mobility and where are the current gaps? What are the drivers and barriers for students and academics in participating in and benefitting from international education? What has changed through COVID-19? What lessons can be learned from diverse international mobility models and experiences?

Greening student and scholar exchange: Concrete ideas and practices.

The international education community has been critiqued for its lack of recognition and action in relation to the environmental carbon footprint of its mobility programs. What are some current and/or future frameworks and practices that address this concern? How do exchange and internationalization activities align with the pursuit towards sustainability? What are the unspoken of (mental, emotional, and psychological) burdens that need to be addressed?

Assessment of intercultural development in mobility programs.

Can we assess the short and long-term intercultural learning and development stemming from mobility programs? How do we design learning outcomes and assessment tools that are credible and fit within the mission and vision of the postsecondary education institutions?

Mobility programs beyond academics: global and community engagement.

How can mobility programs contribute to the higher education institutions third mission, Community Service? Do we have a responsibility to bring back knowledge, innovative practices, and international contacts to our own and host communities? Is there a magical threshold between post-colonialization and global community service?

Inclusive student exchanges and experiences.

How can we enhance and systemically embed the internationalization of higher education in sync with calls for indigeneity, anti-coloniality, anti-racism and anti-imperiality? Increasing participation and creating equitable access are priorities in many institutions. Yet, to date, outgoing numbers in many countries are low and students with disabilities, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, mature students and other groups have been less represented. How do we ensure broader participation and a more inclusive exchange experience?

Leveraging technology and digital learning: Can we experience “abroad online”?

What are the opportunities and limitations of the online experience? What are the implications in terms of quality, standards, and professional development? How can we create online experiences that further identify and connecting beyond one's own community?

Conference Partners

International Association of Universities

To learn more about the IAU, visit

Okayama University, Japan

To learn more about Okayama University, visit

Canadian Commission for UNESCO

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To learn more about CCUNESCO, visit

Sustainable on the Go Initiative

The 2021 Virtual Conference on Sustainable and Inclusive Internationalization is an element of a bigger York University project - the Sustainable On The Go (SOTG) Initiative. Funded by the Academic Innovation Fund, SOTG seeks to address student and scholar mobility in a responsible manner with aim to contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goals and incorporating the principles of inclusivity and innovation. It will offer proactive, collaborative, engaging, and educational approach for student mobility programs through combining international, experiential, and sustainability aspects while reimagining the university’s mobility programs. 

York University is a leading international teaching and research university in Canada, and a driving force for positive change. In 2020, York University launched a new University Academic Plan (UAP) 2020-2025 titled “Building a Better Future: York University Academic Plan 2020-2025,” serves as a blueprint for action, positioning York University as an agent of positive change in a world facing a convergence of unprecedented trials from climate change, a global pandemic, racism and xenophobia, poverty and inequality.  

“Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. In the spirit of coming together, the York community has expressed a strong desire to bring our unique capacities to bear on some of the most urgent issues facing the planet, from climate change to inequality to truth and reconciliation to forced migration, among others. Over the next five years, we will challenge ourselves as a University to deepen our collective contributions to the United Nations’ seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The York University SDG Challenge will invite participation from all interested members of our community. York is already recognized globally for our excellence in SDG-relevant research, education, innovation, and civic action. The SDG Challenge will further elevate our engagement and project our distinctive ethos as a community of changemakers. Additional details are provided in the final section of the Plan.” (page 3, UAP 2020-25)