26/11/14 - Students want more on sustainable development from their higher education careers

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

As the UN Decade for Sustainable Development draws to a close this month, a survey has found that 80% of students believe that sustainable development should be actively promoted and incorporated by UK universities, a belief which increases as they progress through their studies.

View the 2014 report

This is one of the findings of Student attitudes towards and skills for sustainable development by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the National Union of Students (NUS). It is the fourth consecutive year in which the survey has been run, as part of a longitudinal study into student attitudes towards sustainable development in UK higher education.

Findings of the research reinforce the conclusions of the three previous reports (responded to during academic years 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13), providing a remarkably similar set of data during a period of significant change in higher education and a fluctuating economy. Over two thirds of the surveyed students feel that sustainable development is something which should be included in their university courses - a belief consistently reported since the first survey taken in 2010-11. Sixty per cent of domestic students revealed a desire to learn more about sustainable development, a figure which rises to 75% amongst international students.

The survey, of nearly 5,600 first- and second-year students in total, also found that while students believed skills for sustainably development are overwhelmingly expected to be important for employment.  Respondents also showed a desire for roles that effect positive social and environmental change with approximately half of respondents willing to make a salary sacrifice of £3000 to work in this type of role.

Professor Stephanie Marshall, Chief Executive of the HEA, said: “Sustainable development has been a key issue over the past decade, highlighted by the UN Decade of Sustainable Development. The fact that our students are continuing to value and understand the importance of sustainable develop during a period of economic and educational shift shows it is an area of genuine concern for them.

“I am delighted that these reports may have a lasting impact following the UN Decade, and could really help us to identify how and where we can focus our attention in the future.”

Piers Telemacque, NUS vice president for society and citizenship, said: “In spite of rising fees and a crash in youth employment, students still tell us that sustainability is a crucial part of what they want from their time in education. This survey is why we do so much work on sustainability – these figures make it completely clear that it’s what students want.

We’re really excited to continue to build on our world-leading work on education for sustainable development this year, helping all of our seven million students leave their time in education as part of the solution to our social, economic and environmental problems. It’s important to students, so it’s important to us.”

The previous three reports are available on the Sustainability Exchange.