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Environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) are becoming one of the noticeable actors today in biological conservation. A survey was conducted on the university students of Central Mindanao University (CMU), Philippines and National Chung Hsing University (NCHU), Taiwan to assess their perception towards ENGOs and if their opinions are influenced by demographic variables. The study also explores the students' interest and regard about biological conservation as a major issue locally or globally. A total of 273 university students were surveyed from different courses in both countries.
The results showed that most students from both countries were not familiar with ENGOs and indicated a neutral outlook towards their trust to these organizations. CMU students perceived the local people as the most responsible stakeholder while on the other hand NCHU students signified the government as the most reliable institution. The nationality and academic major of the students were found to have a strong association in the students' perception of the most responsible stakeholder. The students from both countries also believed that the environmental issues are the most serious problems in the world, followed by social and conservation issues. Moreover, CMU and NCHU students were more concerned about social problems than conservation issues in their respective hometowns, although they have contrasting views about the major social problems they are facing. NCHU students, however, expressed more interest in environmental issues than CMU students, both in local and global scale. The nationality of the students showed a positive relationship with their perception towards the major important issues in the world and in their communities.
ENGOS should exert more efforts in involving the college students of Taiwan and Philippines in their campaign programs to improve the students' participation and perception towards these organizations.
KEYWORDS: environmental nongovernmental organizations, students' perception, Philippines, Taiwan, biological conservation
With all the services and opportunities that biodiversity provide the human populace, it is important to maintain and conserve the earth's biological resources. Biological conservation must be reinforced to sustain the richness and variability of different life-forms and their habitats (Spellerberg and Hardes, 1992). One of the stakeholders involved in this endeavor are the Environmental Non-governmental Organizations (ENGOs), which are largely concerned in rescuing biological resources from fast extinctions and degradations (Gunter, 2004). These organizations employ different strategies in their undertakings. They act the role of experts (Charnovitz, 1996; Esty, 1998), raise awareness campaigns (Bauer, 2006), lobby policymakers (Binder and Neumayer, 2005) and empower local communities (Raustiala, 1997).
ENGOs in the Philippines proliferated during the Martial Law Period of President Marcos in the 1970s until the early 1980s (Teehankee, 1993). Serious environmental degradations during and after the dictatorship have prompted the Philippine government to pass a number of environmental laws and policies (Magallona and Malayang, 2000). The democratization of the country formally acknowledged the importance of NGOs in the Filipino society (Soledad, 2006). The activities of Filipino ENGOs are engaged mainly in natural resource management, community organizing, pollution control, biodiversity development, land degradation and soil conservation (Magallona and Malayang, 2000). They also build partnerships with other NGOs, academe, media, grassroots organizations, lobby politicians, empower indigenous people and conduct scientific research and disseminate reports to the public (Lucas, n.d.; Magno, 1993; Bryant, 2001).
It is estimated that there are about 3,000 NGOs that focus on the environment and membership to these groups mostly come from the youth, scientists, professionals, retirees, philanthropists, politicians and businessmen (Lucas, n.d). They obtain funding from multilateral donors, government agencies, membership fees, local and foreign donations, income-generating activities, local and multinational companies, local and international NGOs (ADB, 2007). The issue on NGOs' lack of resources and managerial capabilities often limit their influence on the Filipino society in relation with their goals and interests (Teehankee, 1993; ADB, 2007).
Like the Philippines, Taiwanese ENGOs came to grow after the Kuomintang (KMT) Martial Law era ended in the late 1980s (Hsiao, 1999). The rapid industrialization of Taiwan and the government's drive for economic growth has been pointed out to cause major environmental crisis in Taiwan (Edmonds, 1996; Tong, 2005; Yang, 2008). In response to the alarming environmental crisis, the Taiwanese government has passed several laws, policies and regulations (Edmonds, 1996; Lin, 2001, Yang, 2008). ENGOs in Taiwan generally drew membership from scholars and professionals (Tong, 2005) and addressed issues mainly on pollution control, opposition to nuclear power plants, and biological conservation (Hsiao, 1999). Furthermore, they are also active in organizing grassroots demonstrations and public hearings, educating the public on environmental issues, supervising government policies, publicizing environmental issues, and releasing press reports (Tong, 2005; McBeath and Leng, 2006). There are only about 300 ENGOs that operate in Taiwan and some of which operate as government-organized NGOs (McBeath and Leng, 2006).
Taiwan ENGOs get funding support mostly from membership fees, donations, and government grants (Edmonds, 1996; Lin, 2001). Due to its political status, international lending institutions like the Asian Development Bank and World Bank are not aggressive contributors in the local environmental protection campaigns, which make foreign fund supports hard to obtain (McBeath and Leng, 2006). The common encountered constraints by Taiwanese ENGOs are the difficulties in recruiting members, getting financial support, lack of information channels from international ENGOS and lack of adequate managerial capacity (Hsiao, 1999; Yang, 2008).
In spite of the support to Filipino and Taiwanese ENGOs, there are still limiting factors that affect their scope in achieving the groups' goals and interests. The controversies that involved ENGOs and the NGO sector in general (Gibelman and Gelman, 2004; Jepson, 2005) have a serious impact on their image to the public and as well as affecting their legitimacy, credibility and ability in getting financial support.
The present study selected the college students as respondents because they are assumed to be the future stewards and leaders of the society (Sia Su, 2007). Although there is very limited information available that explores the perception of people towards NGOs (Vasquez, 2010), previous studies have assessed the perception of local people and students towards these organizations (Ivy et al., 1998; Wong, 2003; Hyseni, 2008).
The objective of this study is to illustrate the perception of the college students towards the roles of ENGOs in biological conservation, using two representative universities, Central Mindanao University (CMU) and National Chung Hsing University (NCHU) of the Philippines and Taiwan, and to evaluate if their viewpoints are influenced by demographic factors such as nationality, gender, academic major, and age. This research also intends to address a number of questions: (a) How do college students of CMU and NCHU regard biological conservation as an issue, in their own home country or worldwide?; (b) How do these college students rank ENGOs compared to other stakeholders involved in biological conservation?; (c) How much do these college students trust ENGOs?; and (d) How willing are these college students to participate in biological conservation efforts by ENGOs?
The research study involved 137 and 136 college students of Central Mindanao University (CMU), Philippines and National Chung Hsing University (NCHU), Taiwan respectively. This was conducted last February to March 2010. In both countries, only two universities were approached due to time constraints and to be able to facilitate a manageable study.
The survey involved students from different courses in CMU and NCHU. CMU respondents were students taking Agriculture, Biology, Veterinary Medicine, Engineering and Nursing courses. Respondents from NCHU were students taking Forestry, Commerce, Engineering, Political Science, Foreign Language and Mathematics. The questionnaire was pre-tested with a few students in NCHU, and modifications were made accordingly to improve the clarity of the questions. The questionnaires given to CMU respondents were in English while the Mandarin version was given to the NCHU respondents.
The different socio-demographic information of the respondents such as age, gender, academic major, level of study, and nationality were initially asked. The succeeding questions were posed to obtain the respondents' (1) general perception and awareness towards biological conservation, (2) perception and awareness towards ENGOS and (3) willingness to participate in biological conservation efforts of NGOS. The survey was carried out both inside and outside the classroom, and approximately, it took 10 minutes per respondent to fill out the questionnaire.
Data analysis was performed using Statistical Analysis System (SAS). Chi-square tests were used to determine whether socio-demographic variables influenced the students' opinions about the ENGOs. The age groups and academic majors were divided into two categories. Respondents below 18 were added to the 18-20 age category and those above 25 were included in the 21-25 age groups. The academic majors were further categorized into biology-related and non-biology-related. Biology-related courses in this regard pertains to disciplines such as agriculture, forestry, veterinary medicine, and biology while non-biology related courses includes engineering, nursing, commerce, foreign language, political science and mathematics.
The level of trust held by CMU and NCHU students with respect to the different statements concerning ENGOs were highlighted in Table 7. Most of the respondents from the two universities rated "neutral" (indicating neither agreed nor disagreed to the statement) when surveyed about their confidence on ENGOs' "knowledge and competence" and "accountability in the efficient use of money" in solving environmental problems. Furthermore, when asked if ENGOs are influenced by political parties in their respective local areas, most students from CMU and NCHU said "Yes" (49.26 % and 53.38%, respectively).
Both CMU and NCHU expressed high concern over social issues in their respective hometowns, while environmental and conservation issues were less recognized. The two groups of respondents had different perceptions on the local social problems. Most of the CMU respondents were particularly concerned about poverty, corruption and unemployment. The prevalence of poverty in the Philippines (CIA World Factbook, 2010) could be a contributing factor to the CMU students' concern for poverty. The issue on political corruption has also been a struggle in the Philippines (Thompson, 2001). Moreover, the country's unemployment rate is high. Its population, estimated at 92.23 million, is projected to reach 111 million by 2015 (National Statistics Office, 2009).
NCHU students were mostly concerned about unemployment, and seemed to be less troubled by the issues of corruption and poverty. Their concern for unemployment is attributed to the recent economic recession wherein numerous jobs were lost in Taiwan (Chan, 2009). Taiwan's economic status is almost comparable to a developed country (Lin, 2009) which could help explain why only a small proportion of NCHU students considered poverty as a problem. Whereas the lack of concern over corruption may indicate that the problem is not serious in Taiwan but it does not necessarily mean that the problem does not entirely exist (Transparency International, 2009). NCHU respondents also expressed more concern in both environmental and conservation issues than CMU respondents. This could be attributed to the environmental degradation accompanying Taiwan's rapid industrialization in the past years (Agoramoorthy, 2009). The Philippines has also faced ecological crisis (Posa et al., 2008) but the CMU students may care less about environmental issues because of other societal-generated problems. The difference in CMU and NCHU perceptions towards environmental issues could also be attributed to the school's geographical location. CMU is located in a rural setting while NCHU belong in an urban area. As Hsiao et al. (2002) contends, the rural people have a different relationship to nature than the city people.
Although NCHU students seemed to be relatively concerned about biological conservation, most of them were not aware to international environmental agreement compared to CMU students. This could be attributed to Taiwan's international political status, not being recognized as a "country" by UN standards (MacBeath and Leng 2006; Lin, 2009) and thus Taiwan was isolated from participating in international environmental negotiations. On the other hand, the Philippines have signed to some international environmental treaties (Magallona and Malayang, 2000) which could explain why CMU students were mostly aware about international environmental summit.
Perceptions and Awareness of Students towards ENGOs
Most CMU and NCHU respondents were not particularly aware of ENGOs in their respective hometowns. Although there are a number of national ENGOs operating in the Philippines, particularly in the Metropolitan Manila and the main island Luzon (Magallona and Malayang, 2000), CMU students might not still be aware of them considering the archipelagic nature of the country. Unlike in Luzon, there are only a few established ENGOs that operate in Mindanao (PSDN, 2010), the island where CMU is situated. The less number of ENGOs which are actively working in Taiwan (MacBeath and Leng, 2006) could be the reason also for less awareness by NCHU students.
The CMU students perceived the local people as the most responsible stakeholder in biological conservation. Although there were several conservation programs initiated by the Philippine government (Magalona and Malayang, 2000), the respondents' low confidence on their government may have stemmed from the prevalent issues of corruption (Thompson, 2001) and thus, their perception shifted towards leaning on the local people as accountable and more dependable on having the ideal position in managing their biological resources (Posa et al., 2008). On the other hand, the NCHU students believed more in the efforts of their government in biological conservation. This could be largely attributed to the launching of immense educational campaigns by the Taiwan government in promoting conservation awareness to the public (Wong, 2001). The government institution in Taiwan has the financial and human resources also to carry out massive conservation programs. The financial constraints by both Taiwan and Philippine ENGOs could also be a significant factor with respect to the extent of their conservation actions. In Taiwan, most donations usually go to local religious organizations (Lin et al., 2005). On the other hand, the poverty situation in the Philippines is a major constraint in donating to these organizations (Jiao, 2008).
The less recognition by CMU and NCHU students of ENGOs as a stakeholder in biological conservation further implies that ENGOs should show more effectiveness and value in their efforts, especially in involving college students. The nationality and academic major of the students were found to be significant variables in influencing their perception of the most responsible stakeholders in biological conservation. Students with courses related to biology are more exposed to conservation issues and thus, more likely to exhibit high levels of knowledge concerning the environment. This is also in accordance with the results of Tikka et al. (2000).
Most students from both universities could not particularly agree nor disagree to the knowledge, competence and accountability of ENGOs in addressing conservation issues. But the two groups of respondents agreed that these organizations are subject by political manipulation. CMU students' perception might be affected by the reported scandals on some development and environmental NGOs before (Bryant, 2002; Songco, 2007). On the other hand, NCHU students' views towards ENGOs might be influenced by some pro-development individuals who think these organizations aggressive forms of actions might disrupt the country's foreign investors (MacBeath and Leng, 2006).
Although ENGOs are one of the visible and active contributors to nature conservation, their representation should also demonstrate integrity, sincerity and trust, not only to the college students but to the whole public, with respect to its nature as a fund-dependent organization.
Students' Conservation Behavior
Both CMU and NCHU respondents had low regard in supporting ENGOs as a worthwhile personal activity in protecting the environment. However, if there will be ENGOs present in their local area, the CMU students are willing to participate actively by devoting time. While the NCHU students expressed willingness to support but could not offer both time and money. Most of the students expressed private conservation behavior (e.g. personal initiatives) rather than public behaviors (e.g. supporting activities of NGOs). This also suggests that ENGOs need to improve on how to deliver their intentions on conservation efforts involving the students. ENGOs should develop ways on how students could easily gain access of information on their environmental campaigns and programs and possibly, the level of participation would increase. The lack of interest by CMU and NCHU students in joining conservation-themed student clubs may be parallel to their indifference in ENGO's conservation efforts.
The present study demonstrates that CMU and NCHU college students were not remarkably concerned about biological conservation issues, globally or locally. Societal priorities in the students' respective and immediate surroundings generally influenced their outlooks towards conservation issues. The students' lack of interest in conservation issues further implies that any biological preservation drives and campaigns, whether initiated by ENGOs or any other stakeholder, may not be as effective and greatly participated, considering that they have other urgent concerns in mind.
ENGOs' lack of outreach programs and poor marketing drive in the academe sector could be a significant factor in the waning interest and weak recognition in the hearts of the young populace. College students, on the other hand, should be aware of their social and environmental responsibilities since they will be the stewards of biological resources in the future. They have to realize that ENGOs are their partners in this endeavor and that they are also a valuable element in the organizations' sustainability in addressing environmental protection. It would also be interesting for the two universities to improve their environmental education programs by introducing a more specific subject solely addressing environmental and conservation issues. This could stimulate and possibly change the students' concern and outlook towards the environment.
Increasing the sample size from different universities and regions in both countries would have better represented the Philippines and Taiwan in comparing the students' perceptions on ENGOs. Stratified selection of respondents from different strata is also recommended in future studies to ensure a representative section of the different demographic variables.