Students risk missing out on votes as universities lag on registration

A quarter of universities doing only bare minimum to help registration as general election looms, survey suggests

November 7, 2019
Ballot box

A “worrying” number of UK universities are still not doing enough to help ensure that students can vote in the country’s general election next month.

That is the view of campaigners after a survey conducted with the help of Times Higher Education suggested that a quarter of institutions are still doing only the bare minimum to make sure that their students are registered.

The results of the survey – by Vote For Your Future (VFYF), a non-partisan campaign seeking to improve youth enfranchisement – suggest that thousands of students will not be registered to vote on campus at the 12 December poll unless they take steps themselves to get on the electoral roll by a deadline of 26 November.

VFYF received responses from almost 70 universities, about half the sector, on how they were approaching five areas related to enfranchisement, such as helping students to register and communicating information about voting.

Universities were scored in each area on a five-point scale and then a weighted overall score was produced. On average, institutions scored 3.8 out of 5, but there was a “huge variety in the levels of effort”, according to VFYF.

Universities’ involvement in getting people on the electoral roll has become more important since 2014, when a system of individual voter registration replaced the system of registration by household. Under the old system, students in a hall of residence, for instance, could be registered as a block.

In England, universities are now expected to help “facilitate” the registration of students by cooperating with their local authority as a condition of being registered with the Office for Students.

However, more than a quarter of those responding to the VFYF survey were doing only the minimum to meet these guidelines, and a handful of institutions appeared to be falling short.

The survey also suggested that more than half of institutions did not have a way of telling what proportion of students might be registered on the electoral roll.

“What is entirely clear from both the responses and our work in the higher education sector is that there is huge disparity in the work universities are doing to register and turn out their students,” said Phoebe Potter, head of mobilisation at VFYF.

“Despite the great work of a growing number of institutions, there is a worrying number who still do not view enfranchising their students as a priority.”

Twelve of the 15 top-performing universities in the survey were using “best practice” ways to integrate voter registration into student enrolment, often using software developed by the sector IT body Jisc for just this purpose.

The University of Gloucestershire uses this method, according to its university secretary and registrar, Matthew Andrews. He said it has cost only a few thousand pounds and was not “a particularly complicated thing to do”.

“One of the reasons that I supported it was that I think the more that we can develop a consistent national approach, the easier it will then become,” he said.

But Ms Potter said that “despite the furore in certain media circles over the date of the election, there is only a handful of universities who will have broken up by 12 December. The overwhelming majority will still be in term time. This gives millions of students the unique choice between voting at home or at university, so they can choose where their vote matters most.”

A Universities UK spokeswoman said it would be publishing guidance for universities this week on how they could help to ensure that “any student who wants to vote” had “the opportunity to do so”.  

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Students risk missing out on vote as registration efforts lag at universities

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Reader's comments (2)

There is no need for a two page essay to students on this issue. One sentence should suffice: Whatever your opinion of the choices offered, it is part of your duty to humanity, society and yourself to exercise a right for which people elsewhere in the world are prepared to die.
If your university or FE college has not already committed to the #MakeTheVoterPledge campaign, please ask it to pledge. It is very simple for them to do, and will mean that all its students are contacted with voter registration information. Google 'makethevoterpledge' and you will find us online and on Twitter.

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