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Students want greener universities

11 September 2008

Research reveals that while many universities lead the green debate in the classroom, the majority of students don’t feel their institutions are doing enough on campus according to Sodexo's University Lifestyle Survey, a major bi-annual survey examining student experience across the UK published today.

Environmental action has been slow to catch on in many universities, and while progress has been made, many students want to see more recycling facilities and a greater commitment to green issues. Nearly two thirds (64%) of undergraduates think there should be more green initiatives at their universities, and over half (52%) firmly say that their institutions do not have sufficient recycling facilities, according to the Sodexo 2008 University Lifestyle Survey. New universities are slightly ahead of the game with 62% of undergraduates wanting to see more green activity, compared with 66% in traditional universities.

Far from being all talk and no action, today’s undergraduates are a very green bunch, with nearly eight out of ten (79%) doing some form of recycling. Students are most likely to recycle paper or card (64%), followed by plastic bottles (55%), glass (53%) and cans (52%).

“Students are extremely environmentally aware and socially conscious, and our 2004 and 2006 University Lifestyle surveys highlighted the need to provide universities with sustainable catering facilities and a wide range of ethically-sourced products,” says Peter Taylor, head of universities for Sodexo. “To meet this need, we eliminated plastic cups, plates and cutlery in our catering outlets, replacing these with items made from recyclable materials, such as starch. We also set up waste and recycling facilities at each site and actively monitor our energy output.”

Bradford University is leading the green march with its mission to become the UK’s first ‘ecoversity’. In partnership with Sodexo, Bradford is making it easier for everyone on campus to lead sustainable lifestyles. The introduction of a range of innovative green schemes has already seen a significant increase in recycling and a marked reduction in energy use.

Safety and security
As in previous surveys, safety and security is a concern for students. Over a quarter of students (29%) continue to feel unsafe walking around campus accommodation after dark, a trend first seen in 2006 when 24% felt threatened in their universities at night. New universities are behind in the safety stakes with three in ten students (31%) feeling unsafe travelling to and from their accommodation in the dark, compared with 26% at traditional universities. Visibility is seen as key to safety, and nearly nine out of ten (87%) undergraduates would like to see better lighting provided on campus. Next on the list of desirable security features is CCTV, with over two thirds (68%) wanting to see more cameras installed at their universities.

While the majority of students maintain the tradition of preparing breakfasts and dinners in their own homes, the trend for lunching on campus remains strong, with a third eating on site, and just 14% tempted into non-university eating outlets. When it comes to eating out, the two things that students care most about are price and quality. Nearly eight in ten students (79%) are concerned about price – just marginally more than the number of students (78%) who cite quality as important.

However, while quality is essential, it seems students are not lured by big brand names and just 6% seek out branded food from catering outlets. And while big coffee brands, such as Starbucks and Café Nero, are more seductive when students are looking for their caffeine fix, around three-quarters still maintain that the name is not important.

Students demonstrate a high ethical awareness when it comes to buying food. Top of the list is that food should be free range, with nearly two-thirds (63%) saying this is important to them. Origin is also an issue, with 52% wanting Fair Trade produce, 51% keen on buying British, and 46% concerned that fish comes from sustainable fisheries – up from 45%, 33% and 35% respectively in 2006.

Yet this generation of cash-strapped students is even less inclined to pay more for ethical produce than before. Just 37% are prepared to pay a premium for Fair Trade produce – down from 40% in 2006 – while 31% will pay more for free range foods, and just 9% will dig deep to buy fish from sustainable sources.

Social lives are now firmly on the back burner, with less than a third of students listing this as a key reason to go to university. The number of hours students spend socialising while at university has also dropped dramatically in the last two years. In 2006, 44% of undergraduates spent five hours or more of a typical weekday on their social lives, whereas a mere 14% devote this much time nowadays, and nearly a third (31%) spend just an hour or less each day having fun.

When they do venture out, students aren’t partying in university bars. Two-thirds (67%) now do most of their socialising off campus – a sharp increase from 2006, when 44% of undergraduates were moving away from a university-centred social life. And it seems the nation’s binge drinking culture does not extend to university life. More than four in ten (44%) students claim to drink a maximum of 10 units – or five pints – each week, and a remarkable 23% do not drink at all.

“The whole university experience is becoming much less centred around campus and universities are under pressure to make better use of the social space available on-site,” concludes Peter Taylor. “Sodexo is working with a team of designers to see how cafes, bars and restaurants can maximise revenues and become more enticing to students. Undergraduates want to see flexible, exciting venues where they can work, eat and relax with friends. By looking at new ways to use design, materials and lighting, universities will be in a great position to entice students back to campus.”

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