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New Survey Reveals Importance Of ESG For Business School Students

A new study by the Graduate Management Admission Council finds that prospective students are looking for business schools that prioritize sustainability, equity and inclusion

Tue Mar 26 2024

More than half of business students wouldn’t consider a school that lacked sustainability, equity and inclusion efforts, according to the newly-published 2024 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) Prospective Student Survey.

The survey, which gathered responses from more than 4,000 prospective students from 132 countries, highlighted the ongoing importance of sustainability and ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles in business education to candidates. This was in addition to growing interest in Artificial Intelligence in the curriculum since the rise of generative AI.

There was some variation across demographics but overall, the survey results indicated that future students were paying particular attention to how business school could prepare them to create a positive impact in ESG areas.

 Here’s the detail:

Rising demand for ESG principles at business school

When it came to ESG practices at business school, nearly three-quarters of prospective business students in the survey believed it was important to attend a school that incorporated sustainable development practices into the academic experience. Following closely behind, more than two-thirds of candidates considered equity and inclusion to be an important aspect of their business school experience.

Over a third of respondents would go as far as ruling out a school that lacked sustainable development principles, and more than half said the same for schools that lacked equity and inclusion efforts. 

The findings highlighted a shift in priorities, with applicants seeking actionable ESG practices within the operations of the school, going beyond classroom discussion.

ESG priorities differ across generations and gender

Beyond the overall emphasis on ESG principles, the survey revealed variations in responses across demographics.

In terms of gender, female participants showed a higher level of social consciousness than their male counterparts. Specifically, 81% of women considered sustainability, equity, and inclusion to be important or very important, compared to 61% of men. However, gender difference did not affect the proportion of candidates who saw sustainability as a deal breaker in their choice of business school, as there was no significant gender difference between candidates who would rule out a school based on these factors.

While generational differences were slight, 66% of Gen Z participants—the generation increasingly entering business school—valued sustainable practices as important or very important, compared to 72% of millennials.

Regional differences in sustainability, equity and inclusion principles

While there was a global preference for sustainable principles at business school, the impact of these practices on student choice varied across regions in the survey.

Candidates from Africa and Asia prioritized ESG practices more than those from Canada and Eastern Europe. However, they were less inclined to rule out a school that lacked these principles. Conversely, applicants from Canada and Eastern Europe were more likely than others to reject a school for their lack of ESG initiatives, despite evaluating these as less important than other countries. 

The survey findings likely reflected regional differences in how sustainability and social impact were perceived. In the US—where diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts have been widely discussed—respondents from underrepresented groups valued equity and inclusion more (44%) than non-underrepresented US candidates (33%). Meanwhile, those from the Global South possibly felt greater connection with the specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goals listed as examples, such as ending hunger and access to clean water.