Universities and the Extinction Rebellion generation

Young Extinction Rebellion protestors in London

Today’s students are the Extinction Rebellion generation, global citizens who are more interested in contributing than consuming, Swansea University Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Boyle has told an international audience in Malaysia. 

Universities have to take into account the changing values and aspirations of young people, he argued.  Their role is to future-proof students so they can thrive as global citizens in a fast-changing world.  

Professor Boyle said that many of today’s young people were more altruistic than previous generations.   They want do so something meaningful and have a tendency towards social activism. They are also less likely to engage with traditional forms of debate in a digital era which is transforming how we interact and form opinions.  Universities ignore this at their peril, he warned.

Professor Boyle was speaking about the role of universities in the 21st century during a keynote plenary at a conference in Kuala Lumpur entitled "Global Citizens: Student Empowerment in a Digital Age", organised by Navitas, which is a partner of Swansea University in recruiting international students.

Swansea University is taking steps to ensure that it remained attractive to its target audience of younger people, Professor Boyle explained.  For example, the University is marketing some of its courses and research topics in terms of how they chime with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  These include areas such as low-carbon energy and protecting valuable seagrass meadows.

Swansea students also have the opportunity to make a difference through voluntary work schemes in the local area and overseas.

Professor Boyle said that the job of universities in the 21st century was to ensure that their students were as well-equipped as possible to be global citizens, dealing with a turbulent world. 

How can universities do this?   Examples he gave included:

  • Promoting reasoned debate and a respect for facts and evidence, at a time when distrust of experts and science is rife
  • Preparing students for the workplace of the future, with the different skills and competencies that will be required
  • Building students’ resilience and supporting  their mental health so they are better able to deal with a complex world
  • Broadening horizons beyond national borders by collaborating with international partners and providing  opportunities for student exchanges – Swansea has strategic partnerships with Texas and Grenoble, with others in the pipeline.  

Professor Paul Boyle, Vice Chancellor of Swansea University, said:

“Today’s young people are the Extinction Rebellion generation.  They are more interested in contributing to society, nationally and globally, than in consuming.  Universities in the 21st century have to keep pace with this. 

The key role of today’s universities is to create global citizens.  We have to future-proof our graduates, providing them with the skills they need to navigate tomorrow’s workplace and tomorrow’s world."

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