This is a key question that underpins everything we do. It is fine having a dedicated sustainability team assigned in the university, and it is fine taking part in or hosting a whole lot of events and projects aimed at making our lives on and off campus more sustainable. But all of this is useless if the target audience does not engage. It is for that reason therefore that the proposed question is so essential.
For the purposes of answering this question, one of the many things we do at the university is taking part in the Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK) and Higher Education Academy (HEA) Lifestyle survey. SOS-UK are an organisation which focuses their attention on the attitudes of students towards sustainability. A good thing they do is advertise this survey as a lifestyle survey focused on life at university rather than solely a sustainability survey as to not bias results.
The survey consists of a range of questions aiming to demonstrate the factors that influence students’ decisions for the institution they study at and activities that they get involved with while there. Further to this, the survey then turns to the reality that the students are faced with upon arrival at their institution and whether this has met their expectations in regard to the commitment to sustainability and life skills that they are being equipped with.
We have taken part in this survey for 8 years in a row now and every year we get similar results in that our students do care about sustainability and the numbers of those that do steadily increases each year.
The SOS-UK 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 SOS-UK 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 seven years and have managed to get over 100 responses for each of these years we have been promoting the survey.
For the year 2022 the results we received showed a continuance in the consistent growth of interest in sustainability and expectations for universities to be pushing, empowering and equipping students with the skills and knowledge required to make a difference in the world with 89% of respondents wanted the university to actively incorporate and promote sustainable development in the curriculum.
The survey also shows that the students believe the best way to help them develop the skills they need to tackle change include embedding them into coursework, offering placements and work experience and building it into the existing content. For example, 88% of respondents consider ethical issues linked to their subject and 82% challenging the way we do things now (e.g. politics/ business) as a key knowledge areas they should develop during their course. This links nicely to the fact that the respondents clearly favour by a large majority of over 80% the understanding that their future employers will be looking for skills and knowledge of sustainability as well as the ability and willingness to tackle it.
So, what does this tell us? This tells us that the vast majority of our representation of our students want to see universities doing more to implement sustainability from embedding it into the curriculum, offering skills development and creating policies to show commitment and maintained of it.
Therefore, returning to the question posed, students do in fact care about sustainability and so it is the universities’ duty to continue to help develop our students into champions for change.