Students Views on Responsible Management Education – Where Do We Stand?

Debbie Haski-Leventhal from Macquarie University in Australia has been conducting research focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and responsible management education (RME) for many years. Every two years she conducts an international study measuring the attitudes of business students around the world on CSR and RME. The latest survey results have just been released. I spoke with Debbie about this year’s results and her key messages to the PRME community.

Introduce the survey and why you started/conduct it?

In 2011, when I joined Macquarie University, I met the then head of PRME and suggested conducting an annual study on business students’ perspectives on RME. I thought it was important to include the voice of the students in the emerging discourse on RME. It turned out to be harder than we thought to run the survey annually, and it was done every two years. The fourth round of the survey was conducted in 2018 and the results are now published on the UN PRME website.

Who were the respondents this year? Has this changed from past years?

Unfortunately, this year we had the lowest response rate of all the four surveys we ran. The survey received 879 responses in 2018; a significant reduction (48%) in the number of survey respondents in 2016 (1699 responses), and lower than 2013 (1285 responses) and 2011 (1250). The percentage of male to female respondents (55% to 45%) remains consistent with previous years. The age of respondents ranged from 18 to 58, while the median age of all respondents was 29, up from 26 in 2016. 41% of respondents were under 25 years reflecting the continued inclusion of undergraduate students from the 2016 survey.

Have you seen a real change over the years in regard to the answers?

What is interesting is the consistency over the years. Some of the most interesting results, such as the pyramid of responsibilities and the salary sacrifice, receive very similar results every time we run the survey. There are some changes in students’ positive attitudes towards CSR and RME, becoming stronger over time.

What were some of the most surprising findings from the survey this time around?

The most surprising finding of this survey is the salary sacrifice. One in five students agrees to sacrifice over 40% of their future salaries to work for employers who exhibit all aspects of CSR (responsibility towards employees, the community, the environment and ethical behaviour). This shows the commitment of the students to CSR and how important it is for them to work for responsible employers. The message to potential employers is not to reduce people’s salaries, of course. The message is that being responsible and holistic in your approach can truly help you win the war for talent and attract purpose-driven and intrinsically motivated employees.

Is there an area where things have changed substantially since you began conducting the survey?

One of the biggest changes is in the students’ awareness of global initiatives such as the SDGs, United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and PRME. For example, awareness of the UNGC has grown from 23.7% in 2016 to 43.3% and awareness of their school being a PRME signatory went up from 25.9% in 2016 to 42.8%. Importantly, there was a significant rise in awareness of the SDGs: 67% in 2018 compared to only 37% in 2016.

What were some of the negatives coming out from the survey?

The main point of concern is that many students feel their schools are not doing enough when it comes to RME. Over 40% of respondents felt their business schools were not doing enough to help develop responsible leadership in their business education. While the results are improving every time we run the survey, this is still very high. These schools are committed to responsible management education, and yet many of their most important stakeholders, the students, do not think they are doing enough.

Any particular questions/answers/data you think readers should take a look at?

Depends who the readers are. For students, I would recommend learning about their peers’ values and attitudes towards CSR and their sustainable behaviour. For students who are committed to this topic, it helps to see that there are many like-minded peers around the world. For business schools, I would suggest focusing on the section titles ‘Responsible Management Education’. There are a lot of very interesting data on the students’ RME attitudes and their expectations from their educators. Finally, for companies, I would suggest reading about the students’ CSR attitudes and their expectations from future employers.

Where do you see schools really need to make changes/smarten up based on the results?

Two main messages: step up and (allow the students to) speak up. Firstly, step up in your RME, make sure that you are holistic in your approach to RME and communicate to your students and other stakeholders your commitment to CSR and RME. Help raise the students’ awareness of social issues, the SDGs and initiatives in your school or other global initiatives such as UNGC and PRME. Secondly, allow the students to speak up. Without business students there are no business schools and being a major stakeholder group, they need to be included in the conversation around business education and have their voice heard on matters that are important to them. Their positive attitudes towards RME and CSR may help take the school in the right direction.

What’s next or what do you hope is next?

We will run the survey again in 2020 and we hope we can get a much greater support from the PRME community in running it. It is also not too late to participate in the 2018 survey, and you can access it via Survey Monkey here, as we continues to analyse the data and write academic articles. Previous results can be found on the PRME website and in academic articles such as this JBE article. I am also using the results of this survey and my other work to now work on a book that will capture the movement towards academic social responsibility, so watch this space.

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