This year the Fairtrade Committee undertook two surveys, using the Fairtrade Universities and Colleges Student Survey produced by the National Union of Students (NUS). We surveyed students at Buxton and Leek College (BLC) in one survey, staff and students at the University of Derby in the other.
Our objective was to gather feedback from staff and students on:
- their ethical actions and concerns
- their ethical purchasing behaviours
- their awareness of Fairtrade and how it impacts their purchasing behaviour
These aims apply to both surveys. Our fourth aim,
- awareness of Fairtrade on campus
applies particularly to Buxton and Leek students. As Further Education students, they have spent more time on campus in the last two years than their Higher Education counterparts. In addition, we hoped to see some increased awareness and commitment arising from the Fairtrade Induction Project in which many of them had taken part at the beginning of the academic year.
We planned to use our findings to validate and inform the work of the Fairtrade Committee.
In analysing the results, we need to consider the negative impacts of the pandemic of the last two years on all of our Fairtrade work. Our staff and students have been pre-occupied to a greater or lesser extent at different times with issues of economic and physical survival. While the aim of all our work is to change consumer behaviour to give greater priority to ethical consumption, during the pandemic, access to procuring food and necessities was in itself a sufficient challenge for many. It would therefore not be surprising if we found that commitment to Fairtrade purchasing had fallen to a low ebb. Surprisingly, “Disease and illness” did not actually make it into the top three global concerns for BLC students in the survey, but there is ample evidence of the dip in wellbeing among our staff and students, that should be taken into account, as well as the sporadic attendance at campus, dictated by the government.
Buxton and Leek College Student Survey
Between 24 January and 8 February 2022, Progress Coaches at both the Buxton and Leek sites of Buxton and Leek College rolled out the same NUS Fairtrade student survey to as many students as possible during their regular tutorial sessions. These tutorials cover both progress and employability issues as well as topics to fulfil the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural curriculum.
Progress Coaches maximised the educational opportunity by devising and delivering a brief introduction to Fairtrade before students completed the survey. This has been uploaded separately. Through this methodology, 94 responses were elicited, almost 10% more than the last time we surveyed BLC students two years ago and representing over 10% of BCL students of 16-19 years on full-time courses. Last time, given the complexity of the survey, students at a higher level were selected. Since it has been simplified this year, however, it was thought suitable for students at all levels.
As we had a good response to the BLC survey both this time round and two years ago, it has been worth making some points of comparison.
University of Derby Survey
We had just 31 responses to the University survey, so while this is more than double the number we achieved two years ago, unfortunately, like last time, this cannot be considered a representative sample, and it has not been considered worth drawing comparisons with the previous attempt. We promoted the survey more heavily among staff than students at the University, having agreed with Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK) staff on the following set of “markers” that identify University staff, as there is no option to identify as a staff member within the survey.
For 'Which of the following best describes the course you're currently studying?' please tick:
- MA / MRes/ MSc / MEd / MPhil / MBA / PGCE / other postgraduate qualification
For 'Which of the following statements best describes you?' please tick:
- I would prefer not to say
For 'Is your study full or part-time?' please tick:
Twelve out of the 31 University respondents ticked this combination of responses, but it’s not a foolproof method, and given that the survey was promoted more to staff and students, we believe that a higher proportion of respondents were staff. Responses were mainly elicited through committee members promoting the survey among their colleagues.
1. The two survey groups
Overall, the University responses show a higher level of interest in and commitment to ethical purchasing than the BLC responses. However, this is partly because the methodologies for collecting the data were different in one crucial respect: the survey was a mandatory activity for BLC students during tutorials, but a requested activity for the University staff and students. Given that the request was likely to have come from a member of the Fairtrade committee, there was a degree of self-selection in the respondents in that those who took part probably had some level of interest in ethical consumption. This was not true for the BLC students, so their responses are much more representative of the College as a whole.
2. Increased awareness and commitment from BLC
It is very encouraging, given the context, to see that awareness of and commitment to ethical purchasing has increased among BLC students. This can perhaps be attributed to the success of the Fairtrade Induction Project. While two “commitment markers” are down by 1% and 2%, nevertheless, comparing data from our 2020 survey of BLC students:
- The number who bought an ethical product in the last month is up by 3%
- The number who say ethical standards of products they buy, and the companies that sell them, matter to them is up by 6%
- The number who agree that companies need to be more responsible and ethical is up by a huge 32%
3. Possible Covid-19 effects
Both surveys showed that in terms of taking action, the most attractive possibilities were buying ethical goods, sharing pages or links on social media or signing online petitions – all solitary activities. This is in marked contrast to the BLC response in 2020, when the top three choices were all sociable: joining a campaign group, volunteering for an organisation working on the relevant issue and taking part in events.
There is a new awareness of Fairtrade products in vending machines (nearly a quarter of BLC students), which would have come to the fore when other hospitality outlets were closed for Covid reasons.
University staff and student footfall on campus is still only a fraction of what it was, and Covid has taken its toll on Fairtrade committee members. We are therefore not too dismayed that only students can remember seeing the Fairtrade logo on campus. Watch this space!
4. Higher price of Fairtrade goods
This remains the greatest deterrent for all respondents. In the current belt-tightening context, perhaps we should run a special promotion of some of the best value Fairtrade products, especially chocolate (supermarket brands) since that remains one of the more popular Fairtrade choices for students.
5. A clear mandate for the Fairtrade Committee from Buxton and Leek College
While 93% of the University respondents deem it important or very important for the University to take action to use and promote Fairtrade, the sample is too small for the Fairtrade Committee to be able to take a mandate from this. However, 76% of BLC students said the same thing, up from 67% two years ago. This is a clear mandate from Buxton and Leek College. We had already identified this mandate and used it to increase our BLC activities in 2020-22, for example with the Fairtrade Induction Project.
6. A Phenomenal Fairtrade Fortnight result!
All our respondents completed the survey before Fairtrade Fortnight 2022, so the figures for those who remembered Fairtrade Fortnight activities is remarkable, at 35% (University) and 52% (BLC). Fairtrade Fortnight 2021 was entirely online due to lockdowns etc, but students may have remembered those activities or activities from previous years. Two years ago, only 8% of BLC students were aware of Fairtrade Fortnight activities so this is a huge uplift, especially when only 10% of students can recall having seen anything to do with Fairtrade on campus aside from the products themselves. It’s possible, however, that they may be mistaking Fairtrade Fortnight activities for the Fairtrade Induction Project.