It’s been a tough time for students. Not just in the last few years, but for decades now.
The forcing of universities to compete through league tables, the introduction of tuition fees and the reliance on international students for income has turned students into walking pound signs and universities into businesses – instead of places for enriching the knowledge of our country.
Students have been consistently exploited by landlords, losing out on quality teaching due to staff on precarious work and increasing student to staff ratios, and all this to be dumped with tens of thousands of pounds in debt.
The recent cost-of-living crisis has not just been a one-off short-term event, it is merely just the peaking of a longer crisis that has existed in this country and for students. It has wreaked havoc throughout the student body, impoverishing many.
And even those who’ve managed to keep their heads above water have struggled, with many suffering mental ill-health as a result.
When I was elected in 2022, I knew things would be challenging. Representing over 400 students’ unions and 7 million students of different backgrounds and from different nations is a huge task, and the trauma of Covid and lockdown was still a recent memory.
This government has never listened to our demands or catered to our needs, and instead has consistently used students as punching bags to gain cheap votes – describing us as “snowflakes” when we simply ask for basic needs. But this year, it has gotten to another level. The cost-of-living crisis and spiralling inflation, coming so soon after the pandemic, has caused unprecedented suffering to students.
I truly believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. With the power of the student movement, we have always fought for a better world, and we will fight for a new vision of education.
There will be a General Election in the next 16 months, and with this government’s approval ratings continuing to flatline all the conditions point to generation-defining change. This election can be the start of such change.
But to achieve that, students have to TURN UP and VOTE.
Voting matters. Brexit was a significant change to the political landscape, and generational demographics played a major role in the outcome. Polling data shows younger generations overwhelmingly voted to remain, while older generations voted to leave.
This trend is not limited to Brexit, as age has become a dividing line in elections, with the likelihood of voting Conservative increasing as voters age and the likelihood of voting Labour decreasing.
This generational split is a significant factor in election outcomes and is essential to understand in political analysis.
It is not my intention to suggest voting Remain was good or voting Leave was bad. Neither am I advocating voting Labour over any other party.
Equally, I’m not looking to pit the young against the old or imply students are a uniform body who think and feel the same way. There are mature students, students with children and caring responsibilities, and the challenges facing disabled, LGBT+, trans and women and students of colour are unique.
But politicians court those who vote. And according to the Electoral Commission, in Great Britain, the highest level of completeness (those registered to vote) was those aged 65+, with 95% of them registered to vote.
1 in 3 of 18–24-year-olds are not registered to vote. Is it any wonder then that politicians have paid so much attention to what they patronisingly label the “grey vote”?
Students are a diverse tribe, but there is more that unites us than divides us. Housing; access to education, its funding and quality; the job market and our prospects; the mental health crisis and our access to services; equality; international students’ rights; the climate crisis.
These are just some of the issues that face us all. And they’re just some of the issues to which politicians have failed to offer convincing solutions. We need to make ourselves a powerful and influential bloc in which parties NEED our votes to win.
One reason is almost certainly that students and young people have traditionally failed to TURN UP and VOTE.
And this is understandable. Unfortunately, it’s not always major political parties’ intuition to prioritise the issues facing students.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are local council elections in May 2024 and a General Election will happen before the end of January 2025.
Our future, the country’s future, will be built by the students and young people of today.
But only if they are heard.
When politicians make decisions, they look at who is on the electoral register and who votes. So, it is crucial students register to vote, then TURN UP and cast their ballots.
This is why NUS has teamed up with British Youth Council and Generation Rent to launch Turn Up, the UK’s biggest youth and student voter registration campaign ever. We’re kicking it off for the local elections in England and will be ramping it up across the UK as we move into the new academic year and closer towards the General Election.
The government isn’t going to make this easy. At risk of sounding conspiratorial, they don’t want students to have their say. They want an easy life and people not to rock the boat. They benefit a lot from young people not coming out to vote and influencing the future of the country.
Which is why they’ve erected new barriers that make it harder than ever for students and young people to vote. It is now illegal for unis and colleges to block register students. And all voters will have to show a physical photo ID when they vote. And a student ID or young person’s travel card won’t be accepted.
The government’s contempt for students is clear. They offered us nothing in the Spring Budget and there’s no reason to believe they’ll help us anytime soon. There’s no guarantee the opposition will either.
Every twenty years or so, the political conditions are ripe for change. The next general election is one of those moments. We can’t let it slip between our fingers. It might be our generation’s only chance to start to shape our future.
The only way we can do this, however, is by uniting. The power of the student movement is in its sheer size.
And we all have a responsibility to help students to seize this opportunity to win real change for students present and future. We can all ensure that students turn up for housing, for mental health, for climate justice, for power, for liberation, for jobs, for our rights.
So, my plea is clear.
It’s time for students TURN UP THE VOLUME on their voices, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to register to vote, TURN UP at the ballot box, and VOTE.