In February of this year, only a third of students were registered to vote. Prospects were bleak for the 2015 General Election, especially as the student population in some areas is big enough to swing the vote and get people into power who will not break promises and who will acknowledge the demands of students. However, since February there’s been a massive increase in students registered to vote. New data from the NUS shows that now almost three quarters of students are registered, with 72% of those surveyed likely or highly likely to vote in the next election.
Though some students may be doubtful of whether or not their vote will make a difference, the NUS believes that many seats could change parties as a result of students going out to vote. This is direct proof that we should not be enticed to make ‘protest votes’ or follow Russell Brand’s decision not to vote. Raechel Mattey, Vice President of the NUS, says the way to create a powerful force of voters in the student population is to engage students in the political system and show them the value of the vote.
Throughout the year, the NUS has worked with students to compile a list of 30 asks, which includes fighting to bring back EMA, protection for international students and involving students in shaping the future. At a recent conference, Mattey reminded students that we should see ourselves as activists in this democracy and remember that voting is not the end of the democratic process.
By registering and using our vote, we will not just be electing the government, but retaining our right to hold MPs accountable to what they have promised us. We will have a collective voice too powerful to ignore as we criticise those who break their pledges. We will begin to create a sustainable voting environment, fighting to lower voting age and introduce online voting until it becomes part of our culture.
But what about those who are too apathetic to vote? 72% of students said they are likely to vote but how concentrated in one area were these students, and will those in safe seat areas begin to change their mind as the vote begins? Egham is a risky area, with many falling victim to the belief that their vote won’t matter in an area that will almost certainly be a Tory constituency. However, this year General Election hubs will be set up in Student Unions across the country, working to encourage students to vote and create links with the local community, highlighting common areas of concern within both groups, so neither is working with isolation, and hopefully this is something we’ll see happen at Royal Holloway
Finally, and most importantly, taking a part in voting means the government will begin to recognise the needs of students, and the student population will become a force to be reckoned with. So now you’re settled in, make sure you’re registered to vote, and make sure to use it when the time comes.