Ed Miliband has urged vice-chancellors to help students register to vote – and suggested there will be no Labour policy on fees until the manifesto.
The Labour leader highlighted the issue of student voters – who many believe could be disadvantaged by the switch to Individual Electoral Registration – in a speech at Sheffield Hallam University students’ union today.
He also touched on the issue of the party’s fees and funding policy. Labour has been considering a policy to lower fees to £6,000, but internal concerns over how it would be funded mean the party is yet to announce whether it will take such a pledge into the election.
Liam Byrne, the shadow universities, science and skills minister, said at the Labour conference in September that the party’s policy would be “in the manifesto”, but “obviously my goal is to set it out as early as we can before then”.
However, Mr Miliband said today that “we…want to do more for students heading to university, who leave at the end burdened down with debt. By the time of our manifesto, having listened to you, we will have more to say on higher education.”
On Individual Electoral Registration, which replaces the system of household registration, the Labour leader said that “almost one million people have fallen off the electoral register, hundreds of thousands of them young people”.
He added: “This is a direct consequence of the government’s decision to ignore warnings that rushing through new individual voter registration would damage democracy. It has.
“Having broken their promises on tuition fees to young people, having failed to build the economy that will work for them, having short-changed their future, this is David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s final insult to young people.”
Mr Miliband said that “today I urge universities, local councils, and young people themselves to play their part. Let’s work together to register young people to vote and make sure they don’t lose their voice.”
In a letter to vice-chancellors and other leaders of public authorities, he warns that “students will no longer be able to be block registered by their halls of residence”, adding that the switch to Individual Electoral Registration has brought “a disproportionate drop-off in areas with a high student population”.
He urges vice-chancellors and others to advertise voter registration online and to target areas that have seen significant falls in registration.
The Higher Education Policy Institute had previously warned about the impact of the voting registration switch on student voters.
The Liberal Democrats accused Labour of “scaremongering” and said Labour began the policy while it was in government. A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Individual Electoral Registration has replaced the outdated head of household voter registration system and is both increasing the accuracy of the register and giving people more control and ownership over the process.”