At the Student Media Summit 2014 this week, the National Union of Students (NUS) released exclusive research showing that 73 per cent of students are now registered to vote in the 2015 General Election. This data came from an email sent to NUS Extra card holders, which perhaps suggests that those almost 1500 students who replied are, in their very nature, proactively engaged, and therefore this may not be entirely representative of the whole student population. Regardless, these figures should be celebrated.
Only 44 per cent of students voted in the last General Election, which, should the 73 per cent of students’ good intentions actually be converted into solid votes, shows that this generation of students are becoming more politically engaged. With promises from 2010 being made and subsequently broken, this engagement could have gone either way; with students feeling as though their voice is not heard and therefore becoming apathetic, or, what seems to have been the case here, students utilising the anger at these broken promises to shout louder. As NUS vice president Raechel Mattey said, students together can create ‘a voice too powerful to be ignored’.
NUS are putting a large focus on the General Election for this academic year, with the launch of their elections Hub for students’ unions, the aim of which is to educate and empower students to become politically engaged, not only for this election, but all year round. The Hub has a list of 30 ‘asks’ that were voted on by students at the NUS National Conference earlier this year, and allows individual unions to build their own strategy based on the issues that affects their students. For example, things such as scrapping letting agency fees and protecting international students’ as well as policies based around representation and bringing back EMA. This is currently accessible by students’ unions to create their personalised Hub, before the front-facing student interaction side will be available to students in September. The research shows that ‘the cost of living, health and employment’ were unsurprisingly the most important issues that will influence students’ voting choice.
Interestingly, NUS is also campaigning for the voting age to be lowered to 16, in order to give a voice to those students in further education. They are aiming to improve citizenship classes to engage students from a younger age, educating them on issues and supporting them in getting their voices heard.
Mattey stated, “I think young people are the key to fixing Britain and our democracy, which is why I’ll be campaigning for a new deal for the next generation this year” and NUS is calling for students to hold their MPs to account, to avoid the broken promises scandal of 2010.
If we, as students and young people, fail to cast a vote in May, we fail to give ourselves a voice. By becoming more engaged, interacting with politics the whole year round, and holding our politicians accountable to the promises they make, we begin to become a force to be reckoned with. We become a group of people whose opinions matter, and politicians realise they need to listen and cater to us. As NUS say, ‘We are the change”.
Image Source: Paul Walker, Flickr