Our future high-flyers strive for eco stripes

January 26, 2007

Students have big concerns about the world and worry that tigers will soon become extinct but, like Tony Blair, they do not want to give up air travel. Rebecca Attwood reports

The results of a new survey are set to give tutors an insight into the personal, political and environmental beliefs of their students.

For the first time, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service has asked applicants how they see themselves and their future.

Nearly 55,000 17 to 21-year-olds responded to questions ranging from what would make them happy to what they think the world will be like in 25 years' time.

The report, Future Leaders Survey 2006-07 , aims to be the first in a series of annual surveys conducted by Ucas and Forum for the Future, a sustainable development charity.


Young people are worried about the future and think radical change is needed if humanity is to survive.

Lifestyles need to change across the board - or at least in many areas - for human civilisation to make it to the next century, according to 76 per cent of respondents to the survey.

Most (88 per cent) think government has the most responsibility to create these changes, followed by individuals (69 per cent) and businesses (47 per cent).

But young people do not think the Government is doing enough. Some 7 per cent think that it is doing a lot to help implement these changes, while 91 per cent consider that the Government is doing little or nothing about it.

The report's authors call this "a wake-up call for today's leaders".

By 2031, young people expect the world they are living in to be technologically advanced but environmentally impoverished.

The majority (66 per cent) expect oil to have run out, while more than half (52 per cent) predict a war to have been fought over access to water.

A massive 80 per cent believe the gulf between rich and poor countries will have widened, and 72 per cent expect there to be a bigger gap between the rich and the poor in the UK too.

More than half of young people (57 per cent) see themselves as more affected by crime than their parents' generation, and 36 per cent believe they are less physically healthy than their parents were at the same age.

Less than a quarter (22 per cent) have attended a demonstration or protest march, and 17 per cent have written to their MPs.


While they are very environmentally aware, and see climate change as potentially life-threatening, there are some sacrifices the next generation is simply not prepared to make for the sake of being eco-friendly.

Almost all respondents (91 per cent) expect the effects of climate change to be felt by 2031, and nearly four fifths think climate change will make their lives a little or a lot worse.

Some 21 per cent say little or no change is needed in our lifestyles if humans are to survive for another 100 years, and more than half (55 per cent) see themselves as more concerned about the environment than their parents' generation.

But there is a disparity between intentions and actions. Most strikingly, 4 per cent have decided not to take an air flight for environmental reasons, although 67 per cent say they will not give up air flight for environmental reasons in the next ten years.

But 62 per cent have walked or cycled instead of travelling by car in an effort to do their bit for the planet, and 40 per cent have chosen to buy food produced locally.

Most (75 per cent) predict green taxes on air travel, but more than half (55 per cent) expect business will end up taking more responsibility than governments for climate change.

Green issues are important or very important to 74 per cent when deciding how to vote, and to 73 per cent when choosing a car.

And almost half (46 per cent) say environmental considerations are significant when deciding what organisation to work for.

Seventy per cent of young people think tigers will be extinct in the wild by 2031.


The track record of a university or college on environmental issues is important to many students when deciding where to apply.

Of those studying education, social sciences, architecture and building and planning, 45 per cent said the institution's record on sustainable development was important or very important in choosing where to study.

Most (74 per cent) architecture, building and planning applicants said that learning how to address sustainable development issues was important or very important when choosing their course.

The greenest students are those applying for veterinary science and agriculture.

Fifteen per cent of these applicants think environmental consid- erations are important or very important in every case when thinking about their future employer, career, bank, car and voting decision.

The least concerned are students applying for courses in science and technology.

Top five most environmentally concerned students:

1. Veterinary science and agriculture

2. Creative arts and design

3. Social sciences combined with art

4. Social studies

5. Linguistics, classics and religious studies

Bottom five most environ-mentally concerned students:

1. Technologies

2. Combined sciences

3. Engineering

4. Architecture, building and planning

5. Medicine and dentistry


Despite today's high-consumption lifestyles, our future leaders are less materialistic than you might expect.

Although 65 per cent of young people see themselves as more materialistic than their parents were at the same age, this generation of applicants looks to non-material things for fulfilment.

Spending time with friends and family was one of the most important factors for their future happiness, ahead of owning a house or a car.

Almost four fifths say having an interesting job will be important for their personal happiness in the next ten years, and 33 per cent say the same about having a job that pays well.

Owning a house and having a well-paid job were most important to applicants in London (53 per cent and 45 per cent respectively).

The report's authors say: "This suggests that the familiar enticement of higher salaries for graduates is misplaced, though attitudes might change as student debts mount up.

"Instead, prospective students are more likely to be attracted to universities and colleges that can help them cultivate their interests."

Men are more likely than women to consider owning a car, having a well-paid job and owning the latest technological gadgets as important for their future happiness.

Women, meanwhile, are less optimistic about the future than men. They feel that more change is necessary, and they are more prepared than men to contribute to that change.

In a quarter century, computers will be more intelligent than humans, according to 44 per cent of respondents to the survey, and 12 per cent think that virtual-reality holidays will be a popular activity.

Please login or register to read this article

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments