Votes for students: getting everyone on the register

A while back I wrote about a Jisc project which I was involved in which was getting underway with the aim of enabling easier voter registration for students.

As those with longer memories may recall, voter registration used to be done by household canvass with someone at each address filling in a form every year on behalf of everyone living there who was eligible to vote. The system which replaced it a few years back requires everyone to register individually and to provide a date of birth and National Insurance number.

For students living in university halls of residence this meant that it was no longer possible for their institutions to register them en bloc and instead every individual student had to undertake their own registration. Many universities have tried different ways to encourage students to registration at enrolment at the start of session, but this approach has not been nearly as effective as the previous mass registration.

 

One of the Government’s responses to this effective disenfranchisement of students was legislation – a small section of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (section 13(1)(f)) created a new statutory requirement on higher education institutions to:

take such steps as the OfS considers appropriate for facilitating cooperation between the provider and one or more electoral registration officers in England for the purpose of enabling the electoral registration of students who are on higher education courses provided by the provider

Which still feels a bit like holding universities responsible for the consequences of a really not very helpful public policy.

A way forward

Several universities have tried to find a way to enhance student voter registration through different ways of incorporating it into annual enrolment activities but some of these do raise GDPR questions. I’m really pleased to report though that the Jisc project has been successfully completed and universities can now sign up for the new registration service.

This new voter registration service facilitates engagement with relevant electoral registrars, making registration as simple as possible for both institutions and students.

The key features of the scheme as presented by Jisc:

  • Developed and operated by Jisc on behalf on the sector
  • Fully compliant with the GDPR and operated from our secure data centres
  • Seamless, secure data transfer via UK Access Management Federation
  • Monthly reports showing aggregated, anonymised data, enabling registrars to track progress and benchmark it across the sector

The service was developed by Jisc in consultation with the Academic Registrars Council (ARC) and the Association of Heads of University Administration (AHUA). When an institution subscribes to the service, students are provide with access to a web app. Institutions can then share the necessary data securely with Jisc via the UK Access Management Federation (UKAMF) which is a secure, proven way to transfer personal data and to ensure compliance with GDPR.

It’s a really important development in my view and I would encourage all institutions to look seriously at the new service.

In the meantime students can still register to vote in the forthcoming European elections here until 7 May.

 

UUK has also provided a few pointers to universities on promoting student voter registration and the Electoral Commission also has a helpful site.

Voting matters. And it’s more important than ever that students are helped to play their part.

Leave a Reply