This contribution responds to the many recent calls for higher education to become more ‘engaged’, by arguing that engagement requires ethical grounding. The broad context for this question is the author’s collaboration in the EIHE Ethical Internationalism in Higher Education (in times of crisis) research project. The research agenda responds to a general intuition that higher education is experiencing extreme and complex ethical pressures, as it faces intensifying neoliberal and managerialist reforms, despite the demonstrated failure of such measures to deliver ‘good’ outcomes, even within the narrow definitions that follow from market ideals. Furthermore, these pressures and ensuing tensions and conflicts are manifest when it comes to how higher education relates to the ‘international’ domain, although it could also be argued that they relate to the ‘other’ both within and without. Universities have been exhorted to become more societally embedded and ‘engaged’, and to practise the ethic of ‘service to the community’. At the same time, higher education traditions of autonomy and critical independence have come under challenge. The contribution responds to these provocations by considering three types of ethical dispositions and responses i) those based on the ethics of justice, which may take ‘transcendental’ or deliberative forms (Sen 2010); ii) those based on the ethics of care, emphasising relational ontology and the embedded and embodied subject (Lynch 2006, Lynch et al 2012; Noddings 2011) and iii) responses based upon the ethics of education, which is preparatory in relation to future citizens capability to choose (Lessman 2009), but also representing intrinsic commitments to humanity as open-ended and irreducibly plural, involving education as a ‘beautiful risk’. The discussion will range over some ideas and dilemmas involved in engaging global, societal, professional-sociological and professional-educational ethics.