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OU to focus on societal challenges that concern young Scots

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The Open University has surveyed over 1000 young adults from across Scotland to find out what societal challenges concern them most. The results out today, will be used to directly inform the focus of the OU’s world-class research for the next five years.

This heralds a completely different way of doing research by the Open University, which has already consulted extensively with its staff and students, before opening up a priority list to the public to effectively ‘crowdsource’ the future focus of its work on research and innovation.

The poll of 1080 18–34-year-olds across Scotland has revealed young people’s worries, hopes and feelings about the future. Young people who were surveyed consider sustainability and the environment (66%), inequality of opportunity (63%) and health and wellbeing (59%) as the societal challenges that concern them most.

Other findings included:

  • When asked to select top five, the biggest concerns for the future are the cost of living (70%), followed by climate change (69%) then homelessness and poverty (44%).  
  • 72% of people surveyed disagree that the cost of living will be less steep within the next five years.
  • The majority (71%) of people surveyed disagree that society will become more socially just over the next five years, 52% do not think healthcare will become more accessible, and 70% do not believe that social media will become less toxic.
  • But positively, they believe the digital divide will reduce (51%) and we will bounce back from Covid (43%)

The findings mirror the focus of the OU’s new Research strategy ‘Learn and Live’ which focuses on pursuing research on sustainability, inequality and ‘living well’.

Kevin Shakesheff, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research at The Open University said:  

 “As a university, openness is core to our social mission, and it is fundamental to the way we do research. This year, we’ve taken a different approach - to ask young people what issues they care about most so that we can focus our future research on those topics that will have most impact on improving their lives.

“We want young people to know that if they have a dream, we can help them to fulfil it, through world-class research, teaching and skills – the future really is open.”

The OU is the only university in the UK that is open access to all, with no minimum entry requirements and since its creation, has helped over 2.2 million people achieve their dreams. According to the latest Research Excellence Framework results (2022) - 82% of OU research was assessed as having a significant impact on society. 

The OU also announced today that it will open its annual Research Excellence Awards in the Autumn to include a People’s Choice award. This will give the public a chance to select a research project that will go on to be funded by the Open University. The research topics will be made available for a public vote this Summer. 

According to the YouGov research, the next big scientific discoveries that people want to see prioritised are all linked to the environment, including the development of lab grown food to ease the impact of climate change, and the discovery of new sources of renewable energy.

Stephen Peake, Professor of Climate Change and Energy at The Open University, said:  

“Today’s younger people will be the leaders getting us closer to Net Zero by the middle of the century, and I couldn’t agree more that the environment is priority number one. Our mission is to turn a serious epidemic of eco anxiety among this generation into deeply impactful social and cultural change which makes a difference to people and planet.”

Based in Edinburgh, Jean Bustinza, who is studying Data Science and owner of sustainable tourism start-up, Streetours.com, said:

“It’s a positive thing to see sustainability and the environment come out as the top concern among young people living in Scotland. Yet there is a big difference in saying that you care or concerned about something, but not really doing anything to make a difference. That the Open University is proactively building on this feedback from young people and taking direct action to drive new research, creating tools and innovations to help solve environmental challenges is an exciting development.”  

The research is released alongside the launch of a new multichannel brand campaign and advertising campaign directed by Malik Vitthal and production house, the Corner Shop which is airing on TV, radio, and digital channels from today.

‘The Future is Open’ campaign encourages young people across all four Nations of the UK to achieve their ambitions by opening their futures to new possibilities through studying or training for qualifications with the OU.

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