THE BLOG

Students - The General Election's Forgotten Force

12/02/2015 17:35 GMT | Updated 14/04/2015 10:59 BST

So here we go. The "Social Media Generation" finally has the chance to get their voices heard at a General Election. With all of the information that we're fed through our mobile phones and computer screens, surely we should have the most plugged-in and switched-on student population that ever geared up to vote. Sadly, this is not the case.

Historically, 18-24 year olds have had a much lower voter turnout than the general population (44% vs 65% in 2010), but many are trying to change this.

As a student movement, we are lucky enough to have students from a whole range of backgrounds. We're not just your average 18-21 year olds. This is especially apparent here at Staffordshire University, where this stereotype is in fact a minority.

It's all to play for - students could be the forgotten force this time around. We are not going to be bought off with promises of reduced tuition fees - our interests are much broader than that. And politicians need to pay attention.

Getting students interested in the first place is difficult, however. At the most recent National Union of Students (NUS) National Conference last year, a student named Piers Telemacque stood on stage to read out his manifesto outlining why he should be voted in as Vice President Society and Citizenship. An especially important point he made was that the majority of students are not taught politics as part of the curriculum. This is an interesting point, why aren't they? Personally, I have had to teach myself about politics - buying myself a book entitled British Politics for Dummies in the process.

The NUS has launched their "New Deal for the Next Generation" General Election manifesto, in which they state that students could swing almost 200 seats in May.

Here at Staffordshire University, a Question Time-style event will be taking place with local MP and Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt on 27 March. And a "cabinet" of university experts has been formed (including professors and other lecturers) to discuss and promote the key issues at this Election.

A huge achievement for the Students' Union was securing a Polling Booth on campus for the sole use of our Stoke-based students. We just need to make sure they use it, so we're working on a social media strategy as well as on the groundwork to make this happen.

We have won £2,000 funding from the NUS in the form of the Community Organising Innovation Fund (COIF). This will allow us to work with our closest Students' Union - Keele SU - to get students out into the public and local secondary schools, to encourage young people to become activists in the West Midlands and get others talking about democracy.

We recently polled Staffordshire University students and found that there is interest out there. They are keen to be involved. More than 70% said they intend to vote and yet only 39% know which political Party they plan to vote for. And their interests are broader than just education, as they listed their top issue as health (on par with education with 22%) followed closely by the economy (16%) and policing, immigration and security (11%).

So students should not be written off at this General Election. More needs to be done to encourage active participation but it is encouraging to see they want to engage. We hope more will follow in our footsteps at Staffordshire University and launch their own General Election campaigns, to mobilise their students and encourage them to have their say in May.