Understanding Full-Time versus Degree Apprentice Students perspectives on Sustainable Education, the case of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

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


Purpose: The world is on fire (Mahdawi, 2019) with business and society continuing 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 educational institutes and Business Schools are under pressure to do more and to be the change they wish to see in the world (Cortese, 2003). Scholars argue that the time is ripe for educational 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. Indeed, Generation Z can be a significant force for the growth of environmentally conscious consumption (Adnan et al., 2017; Nguyen et al., 2019) and are generally considered to be well informed on environmental issues. However, there is a relative paucity of research on the perspectives of students themselves in relation to sustainability in educational institutions. This paper adopts a ‘bottom-up’ approach to explore the unique insights from individuals who are actively engaged in the world of business and education simultaneously.

Methodology: A open ended quantitative survey was adopted for this study. An in-depth, structured, questionnaire was issued to a cohort of 105 part-time students at Ulster University Business School (UUBS) in Northern Ireland and 98 full-time students at Sheffield Hallam University in Great Britain. The survey was conducted in real time during a taught session in both universities to ensure that the responses were comparable for the different groups. Data was received and analysed from 130 usable questionnaires that were fully completed,
representing a completion rate of 64%.

Findings: 91% of students saw sustainable business as being an important business issue with 89% agreeing that the same issue was an important part of their degree. The student’s future leadership role (Črešnar & Nedelko, 2020), and the current role of leaders in sustainability was highlighted as being important to achieving sustainability. The role of ‘collaboration, education and solutions’ were highlighted as being important to both groups. Strong
correlations were observed between the variables relating to the importance of sustainability in curricula, and their role in achieving sustainability as future leaders (.535; 95% significance).

The qualitative findings related to the importance of teaching solutions as opposed to problems in sustainable education, teaching students ‘how to put it into practice’ and working with older generations how to be more sustainable in daily life.

Practical and Societal Implications: The responses indicate that Generation Z are
increasingly demanding change in taught programmes in both full-time and part-time contexts and in both GB and NI. Generation Z learners argue that ‘teaching and courses could be adapted to current situations and crises' with the acknowledgement that Universities have made some progress in this area ‘they are doing more than I had expected, yet they could do much more!’

These findings demonstrate the importance of eliciting the perspectives of current students as future business leaders in the co-creation of contemporary education programmes and highlight's the need for more research in this area. This research will be beneficial to guide academic leaders and policy makers in prioritising areas for curricula development in dynamic times where sustainable business models will be a necessity for all.

Originality/value: This study builds on existing research and offers new contributions to knowledge by providing information on the emerging needs of both full-time and part-time students in relation to sustainable education that will be important to begin to tackle the largest, most pervasive threat to societies the world has ever experienced (UN, 2020).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Irish Academy of Management Conference
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 22 Aug 2023


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