Preliminary insights from our student attitudes to sustainability survey

I’ve been playing with data from our recent School of Computing survey into student attitudes to sustainability. The point of the survey was to gather evidence of how students feel about sustainability, as a precursor to organising focus groups that will investigate how we can embed sustainability methods and materials into computing modules, in the first instance, but scaling up across all university modules going forward. It’s heartening to discover that over 60% of respondents are willing to take part in the focus groups with over 80% of female respondents keen to be involved in our ongoing research.

I am always wary of statistics that are not backed-up with qualitative, individual responses, thoughts or images, so we deliberately kept many of the questions open, offering students the opportunity to share their belief’s, perceptions, assumptions etc, in their own words.

So, here’s a few illuminations:

Over a quarter of respondents said that their current studies didn’t deal with sustainability at all, and over 65% said sustainability formed only a small element of their taught programme.

Nearly 90% recorded that they felt climate change would affect their future, whilst none felt really positive about a sustainable future. Around 60% felt somewhat positive or positive about it. 30% felt negative about the future when thinking about sustainability.

The sustainability issues students felt most concerned with are detailed in this graph:

Graph detailing the sustainabilty issue School of Computing students felt were the greatest concern

We asked students to describe environmental sustainability in three words. This word cloud visualises the responses:

Word cloud detailing words that students would use to describe environmental sustainability

There’s still a lot of analysis to do but I’ll leave this post with a few quotes from respondents.

When asked about how the pandemic had affected their habits:

“Overall positive: I’ve got more time for me, my family, for relaxing. No more time wasting travelling to work and university and I’ve got a better way to organise myself. Eating more healthy home cooked food and more time for exercising outdoors. Downsides: can’t travel to visit my originate country to see my family and also miss my friends. There’s also a bit of depression and anxiety because of the uncertainty surrounding, and not very predictable future.”

When asked how Edinburgh Napier could become a more sustainable institution:

“By incorporating sustainability education into each course, specifically on how sustainability relates to the given field.”

And finally when asked what they could do personally to address climate change etc. This is a particularly permacultural response, highlighting the need for community action, and a fundamental benefit of self-empowerment:

Everyone must work together to help. I do what I can when I can. Far too many people don’t think it’s worth the while if others aren’t doing it. Lead by example, if others don’t follow at least you can feel good in yourself.

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