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Open University to focus on societal challenges that concern young people

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Young people in Wales have put sustainability and the environment at the top of their priority list of societal challenges that concern them most in a survey by the OU in Wales.

The Open University (OU) in Wales has surveyed 1,000 young adults from across the country 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 at the OU, 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 1,000 18–34-year-olds across Wales has revealed young people’s worries, hopes and feelings about the future. Those young people surveyed consider sustainability and the environment (66%), health and wellbeing (60%) and inequality of opportunity (58%) 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 (65%) then homelessness and poverty (44%).  
  • Only 28% of people surveyed thought that cost of living will be less steep within the next five years 
  • Only 28% thought that society will become more socially just over the next 5 years, 56% do not think healthcare will become more accessible, and 71% do not believe that social media will become less toxic.
  • But positively, almost half (45%) believe the digital divide will be reduced and we will bounce back from Covid (46% that agree vs 29% that disagree) 

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. 

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.

Kevin Shakesheff
Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research, Enterprise and Scholarship, The Open University in Wales

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

Louise Casella, Director of The Open University in Wales added: 

“The young people who responded to this survey have made it clear that climate change is a major concern, and it’s also a top priority for us at the OU in Wales. Wales has demonstrated its commitment to reach Net Zero and build a sustainable nation, and that means we all need to consider how our behaviours affect the communities and the world we live in. Crucially, it also means taking action, so as well as becoming more sustainable ourselves, universities have a vital role to play, as centres of research and learning, to inform, challenge, and drive innovation.

“We’re very proud that our research will itself be informed by the young people of Wales – our future generations – and we are determined to play our part in securing a sustainable future for them, and those that will follow.”

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 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 OU. The research topics will be made available for a public vote this summer. 

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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