Misleadingly good news about the SDGs

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

Question: When does 75% mean not only 'not a lot', but misrepresents what's happening?

Answer: When it's part of an EAUC presentation of a sustainability survey.

The other day, the third annual ‘Sustainability in Education’ report from the National Union of Students (NUS), Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), University and College Union (UCU), the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the College Development Network (CDN) was published.

EAUC's presentation of the outcomes said this:

"The research is based on a sample of 500 staff members from universities, colleges and students’ unions in the UK, with 63 respondents identifying as lead staff members on environmental sustainability and social responsibility in a formal or informal basis.

One of the key findings it highlighted was this:

"75% of respondents have reported that their institution has progressed action linked to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiative"

Sounds quite good doesn't it?

But when you dig into the data you find a problem.  The 75% is not 75% of the 500 respondents.  Page 41 of the report reveals that those who answered this question were 33 out 0f 44 of respondents who "have a HE university or college, formal or informal remit or responsibility for delivering on environmental sustainability and social responsibility, and the lead member of staff for environmental sustainability and/or social responsibility".

That is, of the 63 respondents identifying as such lead staff members, only 44 answered this question, and only 33 of them highlighted the SDGs when they did so – other possibilities were the Paris Agreement, the UNESCO GAP initiative and (bizarrely) the REF.   The SDG option was the largest choice made of the initiatives listed – in EAUC's words:  "the biggest motivator".

If data were representative of the sector, the appropriate response proportion would be nearer 25% than 75%.  However, as it isn't representative, then it's 75% of a small number of people.  This is a pity in every sense.  I can't bring myself to think that EAUC set out to mislead us all; rather, it's probably just a casual approach to summarising research.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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