Last week Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, Don Foster, participated in a panel debate held by the University of Bath's Student Union to discuss issues that directly affected the student population yet students failed to show any interested in the debate or the issues. Cast your mind back to 2011 and the student protests that took place nationwide and it might seem odd. The question I want to ask is, are we students really that bothered about politics?
The main topic of discussion was the controversial 'Article 4' - a housing strategy that proposes limitations being placed on houses available to students in cities with large student populations. Following the rise in fees one would expect students to rally around the issue of policies centered on limiting house availability and as a result potentially hiking rent prices, yet few students that were asked had even heard of the proposal.
With the upcoming national demonstration against university fees coming up in November many expected the debate to stimulate impassioned cries from the student population. However, the Bath student community has yet to decide if the Union will join the November demonstrations on their behalf. With issues directly affecting students becoming increasingly prominent nationally the question we should all ask ourselves is, why are we failing to engage in politics?
Blame has been placed on the parties themselves. The Liberal Democrats have faced the brunt of criticism with calls for Nick Clegg to step down as leader of the Party in the next election. The common cry is that Clegg and the Lib Dems have betrayed us. What should be considered, however, is that since the 2011 protests there has been little political participation to suggest that the majority of students are actively engaged in politics and the issues that affect them regardless of what the parties do. Certainly in Bath there is very little political participation.
Looking at past protests, such as those that took place last year, many appeared unsure of the issues they were protesting against. Of course, as a politics student myself I am not condemning the whole of the student population. Nor am I tarring all with the same brush. In certain pockets there has been engagement and many that protested were there as a direct result of the disappointment they felt at the rising fees. I am simply posing the question - are the majority of students interested in politics and if not how can we change this?
The recent trend towards using political gimmicks is not, in my opinion, the route to go down if British politicians wish to be taken seriously but with such an unengaged student population politicians need to consider how they can reach out to young voters.
Don Foster spoke of lowering the voting age to 16 but would this have any affect? A lot suggests that it wouldn't. Students seem to be less and less engaged in politics but is this the fault of the political parties? Bath University offered students the opportunity to voice their disappointment in policies implemented by the Coalition government and very few turned up. Is the fault of Don Foster? I don't think so. Last month Nick Clegg issued a public statement apologizing to students for agreeing to an increase in fees. Yet I am unsure that students have disengaged due to errors made by a political party. Disappointingly I think the majority of students just aren't interested in political issues and this is something that needs to be addressed on both a local level in student communities and a national level.