Air travel practices in Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences – A case study

Cellina, Francesca and Morici, Luca (2021) Air travel practices in Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences – A case study. In: Barcelona 2021 (online),15th ESA Conference (European Sociological Association) - Abstract book ESA CONFERENCE 2021 BARCELONA (ONLINE), August, 31 - September, 3 2021, Barcelona 2021 (online). (In Press)

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The travel practices by the academic community are becoming a «hot topic» in climate-related research. On the one hand, the climate impact of flying to conferences and project meetings is increasingly debated. On the other hand, also following travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, new practices are emerging, such as virtual meetings or multi-site conferences. Against this rapidly evolving background, we explore travel practices in universities of applied sciences (UASes) - a context that, to our knowledge, has not been analysed in previous research. UASes are in general more locally oriented and characterized by less institutional pressure for internationalisation, publication in scientific journals, and presentation to conferences, than the “traditional” universities. Understanding the “hows and whys” of travel practices in UASes can therefore provide such institutions with relevant knowledge to inform their policy-making towards sustainability and focus their efforts on the practices with the highest carbon footprint. To this purpose, we run a case study in the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI). Our analysis, which exploits both data from travel refunding procedures (years 2017–2019, n=260 employees) and insights from interviews to frequent travellers (Summer 2020, n=8), is grounded in a conceptualization of academic travel practices based on Social Practice Theories. Current findings show that a limited part of SUPSI employees travels. However, the practices of such travellers highly overlap with those previously identified for “traditional” universities. Furthermore, such practices have only been partially modified by the COVID-19 crisis. Climate-wise, there is therefore room (and need) for policy interventions aimed at reducing flying practices also in SUPSI.

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