Student attitudes towards intellectual property

Earlier this year NUS and a number of IP bodies commissioned some research into student attitudes towards intellectual property. I finally got round to reading it and making some notes, so I thought I would share these on my blog.

The report is available at :

In summary

  • Most students don’t feel they know enough about IP for their future careers
  • Many do not have IP education embedded in their course and education is generally limited in most institutions
  • Students feel IP education focuses on plagiarism issues in the main
  • IP is covered by most law schools in the UK now, but not by other departments – academics often reluctant to include it in a course. Many engineering departments don’t really cover it in any detail – they may bring in an external speaker if they do.

Research design

They conducted an online survey of FE and HE students – got a little over 2000 responses – more women than men. More HE students completed the survey and a wide range of departments were covered.


Most students had some awareness of what IP was – 15% did not. Most understood it to be ownership of rights and copyright. Their understanding was fairly limited and it was mainly about getting recognition for your ideas. There was a clear relationship between students learning and IP and then believing it to be important. Most also thought it would be important for their future career.

Students in subjects such as engineering, law, business and technologies were more confident about using IP than students in arts and humanities.

57% of students had not learnt about IP prior to university. The main topic they had learnt about was plagiarism and then copyright. Most students wanted to learn more about IP. In their current course plagiarism was the main topic covered. There was some variation depending on discipline e.g. confidentiality featured in medicine, design rights in art courses, publishing and IP in media and history courses, open source features in technology courses.

In 40% of cases IP was integrated into the course. Briefings were given in some courses, sometimes it was covered in the course handbook. In 69% of cases it was delivered by their course tutor. 28% of students said they learnt about IP from independent study. 40% aid IP was not assessed in their course.

More than half of students wanted to be taught about IP in the context of their discipline. Most students welcomed additional IP teaching and they would like it early on in their studies.

Lecturers were the most commonly consulted source of advice related to IP issues. However only 52% felt their lecturers were well informed on IP issues and only 18% said they were very well informed.

Students were asked to comments on a range of IP scenarios which indicated their knowledge of IP was fairly limited overall.

77% of students believe IP to be important in their future career. Students on the following courses: Mass communication, law, technologies and engineering students. Most students did not think they knew enough about IP for their career.

Conclusions and recommendations

  • Institutions need to focus on more than just plagiarism
  • IP needs to be linked to more commercial aspects of the course
  • Academic staff need a greater awareness of IP issues and need more support
  • Students need resources to support their learning
  • Need to raise the awareness and role of the knowledge transfer office

A number of additional studies were recommended, including one to explore coverage of IP in primary and secondary schools, further research on the extent of IP teaching in HE and FE, research to understand the support academics need, a longitudinal study to explore changing student attitudes over time and a study of employer expectations in terms of IP.


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