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A Closer Look: The student voice

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With Sabb election week now over at Exeter, Pria Rai turns her attention to the general election looking at the importance of student involvement, and the prospect of phasing out of tuition fees and letting agent fees.

Election Week at Exeter is over. The walk up forum hill can once again be enjoyed. I’ll rephrase that; the sweaty hike to the top can be endured in peace. But what about that other big election, the General Election on May 7th? Despite the nagging, last week on campus saw some fun campaigns and manifestos, which not only thought about what might actually appeal to students but undeniably gave the place a dash of colour. Perhaps then, the key to getting students on side and dedicating some of their much-absorbed time into politics and ultimately voting, is to invest more efforts into the interests of the future leading generation?

In October last year, Toni Pearce, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said that the “balance of power will be in the hands of student voters in the next general election.” It has been said time and time again that it would be foolish of politicians if they were to ignore students.  She also made the point that it is wrong to dismiss students and younger generations as apathetic towards politics, saying that “students are as important and powerful as any other demographic.” Furthering this, in the past year the number of students who have said they would vote has indeed risen to three-quarters. The stimulation for this is suggested to have stemmed from the empty promises of the last election, which now leaves students wanting to have more of a say.

The issue of empty promises, and some would say lies, is one that shrouds every election. Unlike our own Sabbatical Officers who can usually deliver on their manifesto by ensuring they are realistic, Members of Parliament speak in a jargon that in itself could eliminate their potential audience. Though on top of this, the substance of what they say is often dismissed by the general public as not pragmatic in the context past government’s capabilities and achievements. One promise that stands with particular unease for students is Nick Clegg’s pledge not to raise tuition fees. This, combined with the unavoidable effects of austerity, means that in the lead up to May’s election, many students will be carefully considering where they will place their vote.

The NUS themselves have put forward a list of 30 key student needs that they will be demanding politicians meet in 2015, which include the phasing out of tuition fees and the abolishment of letting agent fees. Both of these would undoubtedly prove popular with any student, because they are considerate of the problems today’s youth are facing. Studying an undergraduate degree for £27,000 is not synonymous with the prospect of a prosperous job or future, and this should not be the case.

In many towns and cities, the student population is large enough to overthrow a majority gained by the current MP in the 2010 election, according to an article The Telegraph published earlier this month. The effect the student body could have is in line with the surge of support for UKIP and the Green Party. With the high level of interest Exeter students paid to Natalie Bennett’s talk earlier this year considered, it is clear that this generation’s lack of interest is a thing of the past. Instead, used correctly it could be one of the most powerful tools for politicians if they are wise enough. In cities such as Bristol and Cardiff, closely fought marginal seats are particularly at risk of being swayed by the student vote as the Liberal Democrats, for whom support has collapsed, are currently holding this seat.

One factor that could hinder the number of students that turn out to vote this year could be the change in the registration process. Household registration is no longer used, and students have to each register to vote individually at their new address. It could be said that our university should make us more aware of this fact, or maybe it is reflective of how tied up our government has become with petty politics and glossing over the big issues that matter most to voters. This returns us yet again to the issue of political baffle, as I will term it. What does it all mean for us? How will we see the effects and by when? These are basic questions that require basic answers. If the truth is not desirable then so be it, but it is surely better than false hope.

Labour say they will reduce tuition fees by £3,000 per year for students should they gain power in May. This should come as a favourable pledge – albeit seeing is believing – yet how are we supposed to feel about this when our university then argues against this proposal, with concerns about maintaining their high reputation with such budget cuts? Students want to be at a highly respected institution, so as such Labour’s word may not be as encouraging as we would like it to be.

Only time can provide the answers to concerns highlighted in this feature, but for once it can be true to say ‘your vote matters.’ The result in Exeter will affect resident students as much as it does permanent citizens of the city, thus this general election is the ideal time to think about both the local and national issues that matter most, and act upon them.

Pria Rai, Online Features Columnist

If you missed Pria Rai’s last column on the prospect of the Exeter Pound you can find it here. You can also find all our other Features columns here.

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