This weekend marked a significant kick-off for the question of the UK remaining or leaving the European Union; the Prime minister's two day EU membership deal, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn meeting fellow Socialist leaders in Europe in Brussels as well as the pivotal announcement of when the EU referendum will be, the 23rd June 2016. It is only fitting then, that the 20th February signalled a call to students across the UK to mobilise for the launch of 'Students for Europe.'
Students for Europe, with the support of Britain Stronger In Europe, campaigns nationally to encourage students to register to vote and to take action on the future of Europe. Hopefully shaping it for the better for our young generation. It intends to both make and support the case for staying within the EU and to do so with a focus on the student experience.
Shaping the future: young activists from UK universities to campaign that we are 'stronger in'
The day began with a rallying speech from the National Union of Students President, Megan Dunn at the UCL Institute of Education. The NUS president gave a stark reminder of just how much the students have to lose from a Brexit, highlighting the hard won fights by students for the opportunities EU membership offers British students. Opportunities such as skills training, apprenticeships, freedom of movement and workers' rights.
It is undeniable that this referendum will be a vision changer for the UK's relationship with the EU, with many effects only becoming obvious in years to come. As Megan Dunn said to the student activist audience "[the referendum] will decide what kind of country we are; just as much as what we want to be in the future." Megan is right, we cannot let this referendum be decided by those who will heed little attention to what a Brexit could mean for University funding and the European Research Area (ERA). We have to acknowledge that EU students enrich our academic output internationally. The National Union of students represents a vast number of EU students who are concerned about their future - both whilst studying at UK universities and after they graduate.
Throughout the day, the message was; register, engage and get young voters enthused about the EU referendum campaign. Ultimately, it's these students that can then make the case in their home universities and wider communities. The launch also drew attention to a number of organisations that will aid students in best bringing information to students up and down the country. By taking this broad church approach Students for Europe occupies a special role. Despite different visions of the future of the EU the group nevertheless campaigns together on the union's track record. This stands in stark contrast to the leave campaign, which continue to fragment and squabble, disagreeing publicly and dramatically about what a vote out might mean.
On the day, Students for Europe helped activists form the necessary arguments and campaign advice to launch a campaign on their own campus. It also taught us how to engage students concerns about the EU whilst drawing attention to the often over-looked positives of membership. Students for Europe encouraged the mobilisation of 18-25 voter registration to get students registered to vote so they can have a voice in the referendum. Most importantly, Students for Europe drove home the message that if students are not registered to vote then the end result is the possibility of millions of potential remain votes being squandered.
Other groups also attented and gave their own talks. "Hope not Hate," the campaign against racial prejudice, endeavoured to challenge UKIP's anti-EU rhetoric and to teach attendees how to combat it. They had previously joined "Stronger In" with support for remaining in the EU. Left-wing campaign group "Another Europe Is Possible" tackled the Greek Question and how it does not signal that we are better off out. Can we counter this popular argument when left-wing party Podemos has 57% support for the euro? It's certainly a provocative argument that support of the European Union is still strong in those countries arguably worst hit by what is considered one of the low points of European Union governance. Overall, activists were encouraged not to shy away from difficult issues the leave campaign think we will ignore - the referendum is a chance to appeal to the positive yet not shy away from the negative.
Friends of the Earth and Scientists for EU gave issue workshops for activists about the positive effects of EU environmental policy for UK beaches, wildlife and air pollution. They also talked about tackling TTIP from inside the EU, how we could maintain our further education institutions outstanding global competitiveness and how best to deliver that to UK student voters.
As one of the 7/10 students who, according to the Higher Education Policy Institute, want the UK to stay in the EU, who does not want to wake up on the 24th June to a UK which has left the EU. Now more than ever, students need to be in the public eye.
Students must be on national TV, radio and social media to make their voice heard.
In the words of NUS president Megan Dunn "let's get on with it".