EU referendum: students back staying in but may be unable to vote

Poll finds widespread support for UK's membership of EU, but also confusion about when the poll is, and how to register for it

May 20, 2016
European Union (EU) flag missing star (Brexit)

Many university students are at risk of being unable to vote in the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, in what could be a significant blow to the hopes of the Stronger In campaign.

A poll of more than 2,000 students conducted on behalf of Universities UK found that of those intending to vote, 78 per cent said they would probably or definitely support Britain staying in the EU, with only 13 per cent leaning towards backing the Leave campaign.

However, the poll raises questions about how many students will actually vote in the referendum, given its finding that 63 per cent of respondents were unable to name the date it will be held – 23 June. Fifty-four per cent did not know the month of the vote.

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In spite of this, nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of respondents felt that the outcome of the plebiscite would have a significant impact on students’ futures.

The date of the referendum, which falls outside term-time, is thought to be a significant barrier to young people’s participation, because students who registered to vote at their university address for the recent local elections may need to re-register at their home address if they will not be on campus on 23 June.

In the poll, only 56 per cent of students who were registered at their term-time address said that they were likely to be there when the referendum takes place.

Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said the poll’s indication that some students may not be well informed about how to vote was “of real concern”.

In partnership with the National Union of Students and the Association of Colleges, universities will be scaling up their efforts to encourage students to register to vote over the next week, ahead of the 7 June deadline.

“It is important that students think about where they are likely to be on 23 June and also to consider registering to vote by post or by proxy,” Ms Dandridge said.

“With nearly 2 million UK students eligible to vote in the referendum, it is vital that they have all the necessary information to make sure they can take part in this hugely important decision.”

Richard Brooks, vice-president (union development) of the NUS, said: “The EU referendum is a once-in-a-generation vote. The decision made on 23 June will impact young people and students the most, as they are the ones that will live with the consequences for the longest. If students don’t want their future decided for them, it is essential that as many as possible get out and vote.”

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