Climate change is top priority for students

Survey finds students are more concerned about the environment than any other issue in 2021, including Covid-19

Students are more concerned about climate change than any other issue in 2021 – including Covid-19 – according to a new survey.

The research, by student accommodation provider Unite Students and Opinium, polled 1,000 students and found that 60% identified climate change and environmental issues as one of the top three most urgent priorities for world leaders to tackle today. This was followed by Covid-19 in second place, which was chosen by 46%.

Just 18% said they were happy with the UK government’s handling of the climate emergency. A quarter (25%) think the same of the EU and just 15% think similarly of UK businesses.

The students surveyed also expressed support for a raft of environmentally-friendly initiatives on campus:

  • 70% support a total ban on single use plastics on campus
  • 65% agree that universities should cut ties with any companies that have a negative impact in terms of climate change
  • 63% of students living in student accommodation think it should be compulsory for their student accommodation provider or landlord to help them live in an environmentally-friendly way
  • 61% want to see more university courses with a focus on tackling climate change
  • A third (33%) agree that universities should now fine students who fail to adhere to guidance or rules around living in an environmentally friendly way
  • 14% now think campuses should be totally meat-free


Students are also making major changes to their lifestyle and plans in order to live more sustainably, including limiting the number of flights they take, adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet, shopping sustainably or joining environmental groups.

The majority of students said that they had either checked – or will now check – the specific climate change policies or reputation of universities (53%) and companies (67%) before applying to work or study there.

This research demonstrates the strength of feeling from students around climate change. It is evident on campus how engaged students are – Jade Monroe, SOS-UK

“The climate emergency is one of the most pressing matters facing our society and it is encouraging to see students are so engaged on the issue,” said James Tiernan, head of energy and environment at Unite Students.

“Universities and accommodation providers have a real responsibility to help students live more sustainably, and also to significantly reduce the impacts of their own operations – something we’re fully committed to.

“Our new sustainability strategy includes a commitment to achieving net-zero carbon operations and construction by 2030.  This will require sustained investment in energy efficiency and renewables, but also the help and support of our employees and student customers. It is therefore very encouraging to see students expressing support for bold measures, and also taking action daily which will have a tangible impact.” 

Jade Monroe, director at SOS-UK, the NUS’ student-led education charity focusing on sustainability, said:

“This research demonstrates the strength of feeling from students around climate change. It is evident on campus how engaged students are – taking personal action, wanting to know more about sustainability in their studies and their expectation for universities and leaders to work towards ambitious targets.

“At SOS-UK we have seen how students and young people ensured sustainability does not fall off the agenda in recent times. They have been embracing new ways of working and adapting to ensure that they can still progress the issues that they care about, showing remarkable commitment to create a better and more just future.”

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