EU referendum: Will students sway the vote having learned lessons from the General Election?

Without a date set, our iStudent looks at whether student momentum in the campaign to stay in the union could be lost

Jennifer Sterne
Thursday 17 December 2015 16:27

Before the end of 2017, the UK is to decide whether it wants to remain a member of the European Union (EU) and, according to a recent report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), 70 per cent of students would vote to stay. The question now is whether this strong support can be maintained, and whether lessons have been learned from the 2015 General Election.

According to another HEPI report, students were not as influential as had been predicted within the General Election, putting into question whether support from this group will be a deciding factor at all.

It was also reported that it is a myth students only vote on “student issues” and, instead, think of their future come polling day, making them indistinguishable from other voters. Thinking of our future is, however, precisely what the EU referendum is asking us to do. The outcome of it is important for our generation as we will live through the future it creates. Students from across the country have recognised this and are quickly becoming key players within the campaign.

Should we stay or should we go? What students think:

The Independent has spoken with students from around the country about their stance in the referendum, whether they felt like their voice would be heard in this campaign, and how their view of the referendum differed from that of the General Election.

Adam Rowe, a third-year student at the University of Birmingham, spoke of the disenchantment felt by students during the Election, but argued the EU referendum couldn’t be more important for a group of people than students.

He said: “In my opinion, if students do not use their right to vote on this issue, our generation will sorely regret not doing so as the EU will increasingly affect our lives, whether we are members or not.”

However, Abi Lofthouse, a third-year student at the University of Portsmouth, remained disenchanted after the Election. She said: “Students’ views will be completely hidden, not to mention that, especially at universities like mine, it’s probably a minority of students who will vote in the first place.”

Students in the 2015 General Election:

Yet there is evidence, already, of the important role students will play within the campaign. An online group for Manchester students who are pro-Europe was recently set up by student Marcus Johns. The group, part of the national Students for Europe campaign, is aimed at encouraging the students of Manchester to become active in the referendum campaign to stay in the EU.

Johns spoke to the Independent about why he thought living in a student environment made us more likely to go pro-EU as we are “surrounded by people from all corners of the globe.” This, he said, is unlike the rest of the population and helps us to “form our own critical opinions about immigration and refugees,” leaving us “less likely to be concerned with immigration and more likely to support the EU.”

British PM Cameron s Bid To Guarantee EU Referendum Fails

However Sinéad Úna Jein, a third-year student at Royal Holloway, spoke of how student movements, such as this, can often feel “very ineffectual to those involved in it.” She said: “We’re often striving for quite ambitious goals with little resources and a seemingly apathetic audience in the rest of our peers.”

She recognised, however, that as the EU vote has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds for so long, it might actually cause some “real excitement within the student population.”

It is this excitement that needs to be captured and maintained. Without a date yet for the referendum, though, momentum could easily be lost. Therefore, students need to be reminded of the importance the result will have for their future, and campaigners should not ignore them as an influential force.

The EU referendum is a very different ball game to the General Election and, rather than having to choose between three fairly indistinguishable political parties, students now have a very clear decision laid before them - with two starkly different outcomes.

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