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The values driving student behaviour in 2023

We already know that Gen Z students are a values-driven cohort. This is evidenced by everything from the brands they choose to shop from to the celebrities and influencers they endorse. But it goes much deeper than this. Students are more likely than ever before to choose universities and courses that align with their personal values. For example, students are increasingly looking for universities that have a good track record of promoting diversity and inclusion, or that offer courses related to sustainability. Once class is in session, values continue to drive behaviour on and off campus.


What’s changed from past generations?

In a word – social media. As digital natives, Gen Zs have grown up in a world where information is at their fingertips – and one where digital activism has as much weight as IRL protests. We’ve seen how quickly and easily this generation has been able to mobilise about issues they care about. The Black Lives Matter movement’s rise to prominence in 2020 is a prime example: spearheaded by online activists, and widely supported by Gen Z, the movement was able to transcend the restrictions of a global pandemic to bring a vital issue to light. 


Gen Z activism and the role of Students’ Unions 

Students’ Unions are the perfect embodiment of Gen Z’s approach to activism: they have both a physical and digital presence, and are seen as progressive organisations. SUs are often a vehicle for change, thanks to supporting and enabling engagement in activism or volunteer work related to issues that align with students’ values.


The five values driving behaviour in 2023


  1. Diversity and inclusion: Gen Z is the most diverse generation in UK history. By 2061, 40% of the population is estimated to be non-white according to Forbes. Gen Z are unashamedly unique and they value inclusivity and the acceptance of people from all walks of life. From using gender-inclusive language to demanding social justice and equality, we see this value in everything that Gen Z students do.

    With a huge spending power in their own right, Gen Zs are also known for putting their money where their values are. They are never afraid to boycott brands and influencers who miss the mark (we won’t name names).

    Diversity and inclusion is not a new value for Gen Z – but in 2023 it will reach new levels. As the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, we can expect to see issues such as industrial action and class inequality rise to prominence on campuses across the UK. 


  1. Mental and physical wellbeing: Gen Zs have previously been dubbed ‘Generation Sensible’ –  but we don’t think that’s a fair conclusion. Young people have had a rough ride, from COVID to a cost of living crisis, they’ve lived through years of restrictions and limitations. This has driven the desire for balance, and to maintain good mental and physical health. 72% of Gen Zs say managing stress and mental health is their most important health and wellness concern. This is driving conscious consumer and lifestyle choices. For example, 28% of students are teetotal according to Voxburner.

    So, what’s the result of this? Gen Zs are, on the whole, a lot more open about their mental health issues than their predecessors. They will actively seek out opportunities to have frank conversations. In their hands, we will likely see the erosion of stigma surrounding lesser-talked-about mental health conditions – such as addiction and psychosis, for example. 


  1. Authenticity and transparency: Having grown up in the era of filters and fillers, young people are rebelling against perfectionism. They’re consuming more from up-front, honest and authentic brands, influencers and peers. Being the most authentic version of yourself is trending. DeViries Global found 96% of Gen Z are willing to pay a premium for brands they deem to be transparent.

    Authentic content has started off with a strong foothold in 2023 – you only have to look to TikTok, where “de-influencer lists” of products young people regret buying are taking over aspirational wishlist-style videos. It sends a clear message to all youth-facing organisations: cutting corners won’t fly. 


  1. Technology and convenience: As digital natives, it’s no surprise Gen Z students value convenience and ease of use in the products and services they use. Technology has removed barriers to information, as well as education, dating, work and shopping. And innovation continues to engage students; think socially-enabled shopping experiences to the use of voice enabled digital assistants like Alexa and Siri to check on the weather.

    So, what’s next for 2023? Well, to start with – there’s a new writer, professor, personal assistant and best mate in town – and it goes by the name of Chat GPT. OpenAI’s latest offering has made waves across the digital world, and has sparked conversations about the future of work, education and more. What does it look like in the hands of Gen Z? It remains to be seen. But we’ll be following its evolution very closely in 2023 and beyond. Also – credit where credit’s due, it was instrumental in writing this very blog. 


  1. Environmental sustainability: Gen Z are hyper aware of the impact of climate change. They’re not comfortable sitting back and doing nothing, as they want to protect for generations to come. Voxburner revealed that 77% of Gen Z have changed their behaviour in the past five years in order to be more sustainable. Examples of this include buying second-hand, recycling, and adopting a plant based diet. Up to 79% of students even review a brand’s ethical credentials when shopping. However, the increasing cost of living does conflict with this value, as sometimes, it’s just not viable to live a sustainable lifestyle on a student budget.


There are many values that Gen Z consumers live by; as a brand or a student organisation, it’s important to stay connected with young people. You too can campaign for change, educate and make responsible decisions. And hey, it won’t go unnoticed. Sign up to native newsbites for more insight into the latest student trends and news.