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Thousands of students aren't registered to vote

Ballot box at an election

In May 2015, millions of people will vote in the UK general election to decide which political party (or parties) will form the country’s 56 th Parliament. The election will shape the lives of everyone in Britain, yet according to new research by Sunday Politics, thousands of students from across the country are still unregistered and are therefore unable to vote.

The research has indicated that the primary reason for the number of unregistered students is a small but significant change to the electoral registration system that came into force this summer. Under the old system, a university was classed as the “head of a household” and could therefore register all of their enrolled students on their behalf, but the new system means that all individual voters now need to register themselves if they want the opportunity to vote.

Fall in the number of registered student voters across the country

As part of their research, Sunday Politics conducted an analysis of the number of registered students in non-student areas compared to those in student towns and cities, and recorded a fall in the number of student voters. In areas where there is a low student population – Barrow-in-Furness, Boston, Derbyshire Dales, North Norfolk, Portland, Richmonshire, Tamworth, Tewkesbury and Weymouth – the number of registered student voters in 2012 stood at 457,099 and this figure fell by 4,139 in 2013 and a further 11,394 between 2013 and 2014.

In contrast, areas where the student population is high – Bath, Bournemouth, Bradford, Canterbury, Cambridge, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Exeter, Kirklees, Lancaster, Newcastle upon Tyne, North East Somerset, Norwich, Oxford, Southampton and Swansea – the number of student voters in 2012 was 4.49 million. This dropped by 9,727 in 2013 and, more worryingly, by a huge 181,552 in 2014.

A lack of automatic registration could be to blame

To register to vote, students have to go through an online registration process which the UK Government says will only take a couple of minutes to complete. However, local authority election registration officers have said that universities aren’t doing enough to inform students of the registration changes and, as a result, many students may assume that the registration process is automatic, as this is the case for student elections.

Student elections play a key role in the university experience - not only do they provide students with the chance to change elements of what they don’t like about their institution, but they also give young people the opportunity to get involved in student politics and develop an understanding for the election process, albeit on a much smaller scale. Just being a registered student at a university gives the individual the chance to vote in these elections and unfortunately it may be the case that students wrongly believe that the UK Government extends the same kind of understanding about the national vote and doesn’t do enough to promote the need for electoral registration.

Have students lost trust in the government?

Following the previous general election, many students felt betrayed by the Liberal Democrats’ tuition fee U-turn. The party pledged beforehand not to raise university tuition fees to £9,000 a year like the Conservatives and Labour planned to, however, after entering into the new coalition, the fees were raised anyway. The Lib Dems have subsequently apologised, but the decision resulted in backlash from students, many of whom were too young to have a say in the previous general election, who protested outside the Houses of Parliament. It has been suggested that students don’t realise that they need to register themselves if they want to vote, but perhaps students feel they have been let down by the process previously and have lost sight of the opportunity that voting in the general elections can give them.

If you’re a student, we recommend registering using the link above as soon as possible. By not registering, you’re giving away your chance to have a say in the future of all policies and not just those affecting students. Don’t forget that if you’re in need of student accommodation for the next academic year, we can help! Please get in touch today to browse all of our available properties in many Cardiff areas including Cathays and Roath.

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