Exploring the Higher-Level Degree Apprentice student’s perspective on the need for Sustainable Education in Northern Ireland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


The world is on fire (Mahdawi, 2019), business and society continue to consume more than the earth can provide and resources are quickly running out. Carbon emissions into the natural atmosphere are at an all-time high (USDC, 2022) and are expected to have not yet peaked (IPCC, 2022; Mitchell et al., 2000). Climate change is heading for an increase of at least + 2.7 to + 3.1 degrees against a target of + 1.5 degrees (Samset et al., 2020). This should be enough to alarm policy makers and society.
Higher Education (HE) institutions and Business Schools are under pressure to do more and to be the change they wish to see in the world (Cortese, 2003). The United Nations (UN) have introduced The Principles of Responsible Management Initiative (PRME) to encourage Business Schools to be more sustainable (PRIME, 2020). Scholars argue that the time is ripe for HE institutions to lead change with stakeholders demanding change (Moore, 2005), students are increasingly from Generation Z and are said to be the most demanding generation yet for climate change response, calling for change in institutions.
Thürer et al., (2018) argues that the HE sector is experiencing a ‘golden age’ for advancing sustainability in higher education. However, there remains a limited understanding in the literature for how sustainability is embedded into curricula, particularly in closed-cohort apprenticeship programmes and how Sustainable Education (SE) is experienced by students. This is particularly relevant for students in Northern Ireland as the existing research focused on the UK is generally concentrated on England (Rowe, Perrin and Wall, 2016).
Further, the concept of a typical HE student, attending University directly from college, and without experience of employment is quickly becoming outdated. The political reform of university funding has caused significant disruption in the industry. Students are increasingly likely to be completing a degree on a part time basis, whilst in employment, funded by their employer. The funding for Degree Apprenticeships (DA) is now embedded into a levy for large organisations (with payroll exceeding £3 million) meaning the landscape for HE is quickly evolving. The typical HE student is becoming more demographically diverse, with a range of different experiences and expectations.
There is limited understanding in the literature as to how higher-level degree apprenticeship (HLA) students, who are in full time employment, and part-time study understand and perceive sustainable education. Generation Z are said to be the most critical of business activity yet, and demanding of change in society, however it is not understood how this is influenced by the practicalities of employment and from the perspective of Northern Ireland.
The method adopted for this study was a questionnaire in the post-positivist tradition issued to a cohort of 50 DA students in the Business Engagement Unit (BEU) of Ulster University Business School (UUBS). 47 usable questionnaires were returned, representing a completion rate of 94% and representing 33% of all new apprentices in Northern Ireland.
The research sought to understand Generation Z’s perceptions of sustainability, finding that sustainable education and responsibility of business were significantly important issues for them. Their future leadership role, and the current role of leaders in becoming more sustainable was also highlighted as being important. Finally, the role of embedding sustainability into curricula, and teaching solutions to societal problems was highlighted as being an important part of the needs of higher degree apprentice learners.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExploring the Higher-Level Degree Apprentice student’s perspective on the need for Sustainable Education in Northern Ireland.
Place of PublicationThe British Academy of Management Conference 2023
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 5 Sept 2023


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