This is a question that vexed me for many of the years that I’ve worked on sustainability at DMU. From my own perspective I know the importance of sustainability in creating a more equal and sustainable world that provides a better quality of life for everyone whilst protecting the planet on which we all depend. But is this a view that is shared amongst our students?
I was therefore intrigued by the work that the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) had been doing around student attitudes towards, and skills for, sustainable development. Their longitudinal studies had gathered information from students through an annual lifestyle survey. The survey is strictly promoted as a survey about attitudes of students at university rather than a survey about sustainability, so as not to bias results.
The survey consists of a variety of questions regarding why students choose their university and the skills and attributes which they felt they have already learnt during their time at university. Questions are also asked regarding their impressions on how proactive their institution is in reducing the negative impacts it has upon people and the environment. Questions are initially framed around impacts upon people and environment until a definition of sustainable development is suggested. Students are then asked about their expectations of their institution in relation to sustainable development.
The research, which has been undertaken annually since 2010, consistently finds that over 80 per cent of students nationally want their institution to actively incorporate and promote sustainable development, and that over 60 per cent want to learn more about it. The NUS have used the findings of the research as a key part of their mandate to drive student-led sustainability across the country through projects such as Green Impact, Student Switch Off, Student Eats and Responsible Futures.
The national picture looked great and demonstrated a real demand for sustainability work within institutions. However was this reflected within our own students at DMU? The NUS have worked with institutions to help promote the survey and as an added incentive offer to share the raw data with any institution that gains over 100 responses to the survey from its students. Armed with this information we have been promoting the survey to DMU students for the past three years and have managed to get over 100 responses for each of the three years we have been promoting the survey.
So what do the results indicate? Overall the results show that our students do indeed care about sustainability and that their responses match the national results.
In the latest round of data from the 2018 survey 92% of DMU students who answered the survey agree that sustainable development is something that universities should actively incorporate and promote. This was higher than the 80% national response. The survey results also indicate that 82% of DMU students who answered the survey agree that sustainable development is something that all university / colleges courses should actively incorporate and promote.
The results of the survey also show that over 80% of DMU students agree that the university takes positive action to reduce the negative impact it has on people and the environment. Over 65% of students agree that being a student at DMU encourages them to think and act to help people and the environment and that over 70% of DMU students agree that environmental and social skills should be developed as part of their course.
DMU students also indicated that the reputation of prospective employers is important with 77% of students indicating that they would take ‘A position with a starting salary of £1000 lower than average (£20,000) in a company with a strong environmental and social record’.
Interestingly the results to the questions in the survey have been consistent across the three years worth of results. The number of survey responses have been low with responses being 255, 116 and 163 for the past three years. However the consistent results over the past three years offers some confidence to the validity of the responses being representative of the students at DMU. A short report on the 2018 survey results with comparisons with previous years’ data has been produced. We will of course, be working hard to increase response levels for next years survey and hope that the results continue to show a strong demand for sustainability from students.
Karl Letten, Environmental & Sustainability Officer