HEA-NUS Report 2013: Student attitudes towards and skills for sustainable development

SML-HEA-reportOver 80% of students believe sustainable development should be actively promoted and incorporated by UK universities, according to a new report Student attitudes towards and skills for sustainable development, by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the National Union of Students (NUS) published by the HEA in late September 2013.

Authored by Rachel Drayson, Elizabeth Bone, Jamie Agombar and Simon Kemp, this report is based on research into student attitudes towards, and skills for, sustainable development (SD) conducted in 2012, continuing research from 2010 and 2011. This national online survey achieved representative samples of 4,099 first-year students and 2,657 third-year students. As in previous waves of the research, all students were in higher education and taking their first degree after less than a year away from formal education.

The report presents ten key findings, as extracted below:

The research reinforced the conclusions of the 2010 and 2011 reports through the following key findings:

  • Over eight in every ten students consistently believe that SD should be actively incorporated and promoted by universities, and this increases as respondents progress through their studies
  • Over two thirds consistently believe that SD should be covered by their university courses
  • Over 60% of students want to learn more about SD
  • 80% of third-year students see universities as key players in the delivery of skills for SD
  • A desire to learn more about SD increases as respondents progress through their studies
  • There is a continued preference among students for a reframing of curriculum content rather than additional content or courses
  • The majority of students continue to interpret SD as predominantly being about the environment, with less recognition of the social and economic aspects

This third year of the research uncovered the following new insights from students:

  • A desire for teaching to include extra-curricular activities within the range of learning opportunities for sustainable development
  • Third-year respondents state they are more likely to accept graduate positions with a lower starting salary than respondents answering in their first and second years
  • First-years in 2012 state they are more likely to accept reduced starting salaries for a job in a company with a positive performance on sustainability than previous years

Based on these findings, the report makes recommendations to:

  • Students and students’ unions
  • Academics
  • Higher education institutions
  • Government and policy makers
  • Employers and professional bodies

In summary, the authors recommend that, in response to the clear student demand, all higher education institutions should consider adopting ‘a holistic approach where students, senior management, academic staff, estates staff, employers and professional bodies work together on embedding SD throughout all curriculum, extra-curricular, operational, research, and enterprise activities.’

Image from the cover of the report available from the HEA website


The press release on the HEA website

The Executive Summary of the report

The report in full

ESD page of the HEA

ESD page of the NUS website


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