Greener Research

Attitudes and Skills for Sustainable Development

Higher Education Academy (HEA) funded research into student attitudes towards, and skills for, sustainable development.


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NUS and NUS Services have been working with the HEA since 2010 to assess student experiences of education for sustainable development (ESD) and understand the attitudes and skills developmed as a result.  Whilst first conducted in 2010-11, the research is now entering its third year (2012-13).

NUS and NUS Services have worked in partnership with an expert steering group to deliver the work, including representation from Change Agents UK (formerly Studentforce for Sustainability), Business in the Community and the University of Bath.

The research presented a unique opportunity to work with students from all four UK member nations to understand their thoughts and attitudes to ESD and to provide senior national figures with student opinion.

Research is conducted in two phases:

  • Desk research will be conducted to identify the existing policy in ESD and existing student attitudes to sustainable development.
  • Empirical research will then be conducted to understand student aspirations to study sustainable development, existing provision and interpretation of ESD in universities and identification of any unmet needs.

In 2010-11 the empirical research was conducted with first year students, in 2011-12 first and  second years were researched.  In the latest research (2012-13), we will be working with first and third year students.  Adopting this longitudinal approach will enable us to track how the attitudes and skills of the 2010 first year cohort have changed throughout their university career as well as investigating differences between first year intakes.

Key findings:

  • Two thirds of first and second year students responding to the 2011-12 study said they would willingly get paid £1,000 less a year if the company they worked for had a good environmental and ethical record.
  • Students believe employers value sustainability skills, according to the research, with almost 80% (79.6) of second year students  in 2011-12 viewing universities as a key provider of these environmental, social and economic skills.

For futher information please see the 2010-11 report and the 2011-12 report.