University Students’ Understandings Of And Attitudes Towards Human Rights

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Due to the subjective nature of the topic, there will be a plethora of student perspectives towards human rights. Each individuals life experience will shift and alter how they determine their attitudes towards the subject as will the research methodology used. Human rights are ever-present within society and can be presented in many different ways. Social work is one field in which human rights play a very crucial role. Students who study social work will be able to further develop our understanding of human rights and invite us into an alternate mindset which we may not have considered. Similarly, literature in relation to Medical and Nursing students perspectives of human right will be explored to change the field of the research.

Social work is one of many fields that needs to take into account the understanding of humans rights. The India study programme, conducted by (Bell, Moorhead, & Boetto, 2015) involved the use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods through the use of a pre programme survey with three closed questions and seven open ended questions. This allowed for researchers to gather a greater understanding of the perspectives the students had towards human rights and social justice. The results stated that seven of the eight respondents all believed that human rights were a “birth right, universal, basic to everyone, no matter what your background, colour or gender”. The gap in the research is the fact that no males were involved in the process. Continuing with the theme of social work, (Kjørstad & Wolmesjö, 2016) conducted research with the intention of highlighting the perspectives of undergraduate students on grand challenges for social welfare work. This was achieved through the use of both a descriptive and transversal study model. A total of 5 universities took part in the research, which generated a larger range of participants than that conducted by Bell, Moorehead and Boetto. The general basis of the question asked during the process was ‘issues relating to public health and human rights in different areas’. The main themes that presented themselves when answering this question included economic and financial support, accessibility for persons with disabilities, health and social policy issues and violence.

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The methodology used to gather this information has a constrain on it, that being that most descriptive research methods can not test or verify the research problem statistically. From an international perspective, students understandings of human rights differ greatly from that of Australians. A study conducted by (Nuttman Shwartz & Ranz, 2016) was used to gain an insights into the mindset of international students knowledge of human rights. The researchers used a naturalistic approach to the study, interfering as little as possible to ensure the most authentic response could be achieved. The students were required to write personal narratives after attending four psycho-educational sessions. One of the questions asked students to characterise issues relating to human rights during a short field work program abroad. This is where the international element presents itself, as the Israeli students focused on the discrimination and racism that they experienced, whereas the Indian students focused on the concept of “lending a helping hand to needy and distressed people” (Shwarts and Ranz 2015). The limitation with a naturalistic method of research is the fact that the researcher isn’t able to control for outside variable. Another negative is the fact that people might simply behave differently due to the fact that they know they are being watched. These responses illustrate how the difference in location is able to alter the ways in which an individual both perceives and understands human rights. They also challenge our own perspectives and make us think with a more holistic approach.

Another field in which human rights are embedded within is medicine and nursing. A local study, conducted by (Hunt et al., 2015) explored nursing students perspectives on the health and healthcare issues of aboriginal people. A pre and post survey that contained both open and closed ended questions was used to gather information. Using a thematic analytical approach, the researchers discovered that four main themes were brought to light. These included a) understanding indigenous history, culture and healthcare; b) Development of cultural competence; c) Respect for indigenous culture and practices; d) Understanding of disadvantages associated with indigenous Australians. One negative which can be associated with this form of qualitative data is the fact that the results are very subjective which makes it difficult to isolate an overall perspective. However, this may also be seen in a positive light as it invites the reader to a plethora of different angles as to how students view human rights. International research from (Chamberlain, 2001) was conducted in the UK.

Chamberlain explores the level of ignorance that nursing students have towards the four international committee of nursing statements of human rights. 90% of the students knew what the Universal declaration of human rights was, however when asked what the rights of patients involved, the students classified patients into their own subset categories, instead of having a holistic approach to the distribution of human rights. The decision to use multiple types of sampling such as stratified and purposive ensured that there would be a larger pool of respondents, which in turn, increases the strength of the overall research. A study conducted by (Prasad & Theodore, 2016) explored the perception that nursing students had towards patients who were mentally ill. This was achieved through a non-experimental descriptive research design. Ethical clearance was obtained through the concerned authorities of the nursing colleges. The researchers created a socio-demographic profile and a questionnaire to gain an insight into the students. The research discovered that 29.75% of students didn’t have any previous exposure or awareness of human rights on the mentally ill. This is an enlightening statistic to take into account when trying to develop an understanding of students outlook on human rights. Taking into account both aspects of the research, 41% of the students scored inadequate knowledge of human rights related to mental health. One setback that this experimental research has is its inability to find cause and effect relationships within the theory.

Taking into account all the research above, it is evident that students perspectives towards human rights are extremely fluctuant, with some students being extremely aware of concept, and others being uneducated. Overall, the research that was conducted was thorough, and of high quality, however, each method used had a limitation, the most significant of the lot being from the research conducted by (Bell, Moorhead, & Boetto, 2015) with no males being involved in the study. The research explored would be beneficial in relation to helping the responder gather a greater understanding of the view that students towards human rights.


  1. Bell, K., Moorhead, B., & Boetto, H. (2016). Social work students’ reflections on gender, social justice and human rights during a short-term study programme to India. International Social Work, 60(1), 32-44. doi: 10.1177/0020872814559559
  2. Chamberlain, M. (2001). Human Rights Education for Nursing Students. Nursing Ethics, 8(3), 211-222. doi: 10.1191/096973301678777154
  3. Hunt, L., Ramjan, L., McDonald, G., Koch, J., Baird, D., & Salamonson, Y. (2015). Nursing students' perspectives of the health and healthcare issues of Australian Indigenous people. Nurse Education Today, 35(3), 461-467. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2014.11.019
  4. Kjørstad, M., & Wolmesjö, M. (2016). Becoming aware of the grand social challenges: how an international and interdisciplinary educational context may broaden students’ perspectives on human rights and public health. European Journal Of Social Work, 20(1), 125-138. doi: 10.1080/13691457.2016.1202204
  5. Nuttman Shwartz, O., & Ranz, R. (2016). Human rights discourse during a short-term field placement abroad: An experience of social work students from Israel and India. International Social Work, 60(2), 283-296. doi: 10.1177/0020872815598568
  6. Prasad, M., & Theodore, D. (2016). Knowledge of nursing students regarding human rights of mentally ill. Asian Journal Of Nursing Education And Research, 6(2), 151. doi: 10.5958/2349-2996.2016.00028.8
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