Sustainability ‘more important than location’ for mobile students

THE survey finds applicants are just as likely to rate university sustainability and graduate employment prospects as top priorities

April 16, 2021
university students on green campus with bicycles to represent sustainability
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Browse the full Impact Rankings 2021 results

Prospective international students say they are more likely to choose a university based on its commitment to sustainability than for its location, according to Times Higher Education research.

A survey of 2,000 prospective international students, conducted in March by THE’s consultancy team, found that the vast majority believe universities have an important role to play in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (79 per cent) and in enhancing the ethic of sustainable citizenship in their students through the teaching of knowledge, skills, practices and values of sustainability (82 per cent).

Most respondents also said that they believed it was important for their future career prospects to demonstrate to employers that during their time at university they developed into a sustainability-minded citizen (69 per cent).

The survey, which was carried out ahead of the launch of the third edition of the THE Impact Rankings next week, found that respondents ranked a university’s commitment to, and reputation for, sustainability higher in importance than its location when deciding which institutions to apply to (an average rank of 3.6 v 3.3 out of 7, with higher figures reflecting greater importance).

Meanwhile, 9 per cent of respondents said that sustainability was the most important factor in determining their university choice, putting it on a par with graduate-employability prospects (also 9 per cent) and the location of the university (8 per cent).

However, sustainability was still less likely to be regarded as the most important factor when compared with several other aspects, including quality of teaching (28 per cent), cost of tuition (16 per cent), quality of research (15 per cent) and rankings position (12 per cent).

When researching which universities to apply to, more than half of students said that they had assessed institutions’ commitment to diversity and inclusion (57 per cent) and looked at the THE Impact Rankings (56 per cent, although it is worth noting that all respondents had previously used the THE website before participating in the survey).

When asked to rate the importance of examples of sustainability when making their university choice, 77 per cent of respondents said that an institution’s commitment to teaching the knowledge, skills, practices and values of sustainability across all programmes was important, while 67 per cent cited the availability of degree programmes in specific sustainability-related disciplines.

The THE Impact Rankings assess universities against the UN’s SDGs. The 2021 tables will include 1,240 institutions from 98 countries and regions.

The full findings from the survey were presented by the THE Consultancy team at the virtual THE Innovation & Impact Summit on 21 April. You can access the presentation slides here.

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