International students want universities to be greener

Nearly all prospective international students looking to study in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia or Canada think that universities are not doing enough to be environmentally sustainable, according to new research.

The survey of more than 3,700 respondents from across the globe also found that more than 90% of prospective students think that universities could do more to reduce their own impact on the environment.

Only 35% agree strongly that universities care about the environment.

On the other hand, more than three-quarters of international students would be more likely to choose a degree if the content helped them learn about reducing their environmental impact.

The survey was undertaken by QS, which provides the QS World University Rankings as well as ‘student recruitment, retention and international relations solutions’.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Paul Raybould, director of marketing and market intelligence at QS, said that the QS Environmental Concerns Survey 2019 is its first on the issue and highlights the growing concerns among prospective students about the impact of climate change.

“Our new research shows that universities must rise to the challenge of educating students on environmental issues by placing more emphasis on courses that focus on climate change, as well as doing more to decarbonise through measures such as increasing funding for research into sustainable initiatives.”

The respondents were asked a series of questions relating to how sustainable they perceive universities to be and how they expect universities to address climate change.

The research reveals that sustainability is an increasingly important issue for students. Key findings include:

  • • 94% of respondents think universities could do more to be environmentally sustainable.

  • • 88% of respondents think it essential or very important that a university should take action to reduce its environmental impact.

  • • 78% of respondents said that universities are better than other sectors such as finance and construction when it comes to being environmentally friendly.

  • • 79% of respondents would be more likely to choose a degree if the content taught them about reducing their environmental impact, with 43% saying they would be much more likely.

  • • Nearly 58% of respondents think older generations have neglected the environment.

As part of the survey, QS also asked respondents what they most want to learn from studying at university. More than half of applicants said that using resources efficiently to limit the impact on the environment is a skill they most want to learn while studying.

When asked what universities should be doing to improve their sustainability, respondents said that increasing funding for research into sustainable initiatives is the most important activity for universities to engage in.

Reducing the use of single-use plastics and reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill were the second and third most important activity respectively.

When asked what sustainability roles they thought universities have a responsibility for, a majority of 60% or more agreed that they are responsible for “protecting the environment”, “developing sustainable technologies” and “developing green energy technologies”, and nearly half thought they were responsible for improving the quality of life in local areas.

The survey asked what the best ways were for students to learn about the environment while studying at university. Three most popular responses (all with 54%) were “running extra-curricular activities within departments”, “through placements or work experience”, and “linking coursework or dissertations to the issues”.

Asked to pick from a list of which skills they would most want to learn while studying at university, 59% chose “solving problems by thinking about whole systems – including different connections and interactions”, followed by “understanding how to create change” (57%), “using resources efficiently to limit the impact on the environment and other people” (56%), “understanding how human activity is affecting nature” (52.9%) and “looking at global problems from the perspective of people from around the world” (53%).

The survey also asked what the three most important issues facing young people today were. Top was a lack of employment opportunities (60%) and the rest of the top five were drug abuse (44%), mental health problems (37%), pressures of social networking (35%) and climate change (30%).

The new research was published on 18 September to coincide with the Global Climate Strike starting on 20 September, in which thousands of young people from around the world are set to walk out from schools, colleges and universities.

The strike is set to take place over the course of a week from Friday 20 September and will demand more action from governments and businesses to tackle climate change.