Election 2024, Staffroom - Opinion

The election is a chance to empower our learners to improve their lives

Colleges have a vital role in encouraging political engagement among their learners. Here’s how we’re doing that while remaining neutral

Colleges have a vital role in encouraging political engagement among their learners. Here’s how we’re doing that while remaining neutral

17 Jun 2024, 5:00

For me, education is deeply personal. Going to college was my pathway to a career and a means to look after my family. It’s also where I learned I could help change the system.

Joining my Students’ Union empowered me to stand up for the things I believed in and gave me the confidence to put myself forward for, and get elected first as NUS’ Vice President for Further Education, and then as National President.

During this time, I met activists, enthusiasts, policy makers and protestors, as well as regular students who just wanted to make their bit of education a little better. It made me realise that if we want to see and effect real change, we need to ignite passion in others.

Now, this is not just my goal but my role, and heading into a general election is the perfect time to spark this interest and excitement.

As well as raising awareness of how the electoral process works, we want to give our learners confidence that their opinions and hopes for the future really count.

But how do you capture their interest in politics and make it relevant to them? And how do you do this while staying politically neutral? We can’t (and wouldn’t) tell our students who to vote for, but we must give them access to the right information so they can make their own, well-informed choices.

Here are some of things we are doing to encourage our students to have a say in issues that will be directly affecting them:

Politics starts at home

Students’ Union elections are a great way to get learners involved in political decision-making at a local level. Electing a student president is underpinned by the same democratic philosophy as a general election, helping students better understand the process.

Our SU elections also (coincidentally) take place in July, so we hope that the national political ‘excitement’ will drive engagement in our elections and vice versa.

Mythbusting the process

This will be the first election many of our students vote in. The earlier we can prepare them for what’s involved and needed, the better.

Photo ID is now a legal requirement for every voter, so we have organised a series of pop-up events to help students register for citizenship cards. This is a form of valid ID – meaning no one will be prevented from having their say if they don’t happen to have a passport or driving licence.

Breaking down myths around voting and talking through the benefits of having your say is also crucial. We are delivering a series of presentations over the next few weeks to help students feel more familiar with the system.

Tackling mis- and disinformation

Impartiality is key and must be at the heart of any election-focused college activity. However, students need to know where they can access trustworthy information about the commitments each MP and/or political party is making.

We help encourage critical thinking by signposting students to accurate information about issues that matter to them and making them aware of fake news. Explaining how some of these policies would work in practice is crucial to informed decision-making.

Reading and understanding manifestos is key to all elections. We want to encourage students to ask questions like: ‘What is important to this candidate?’, ‘How do their views align with mine?’ and ‘What changes would we see?’.

Hosting hustings

Giving students direct access to candidates is a great way of making the whole process more relevant and real. We have organised hustings at each of our campuses where students will put their questions directly to candidates.

Inviting representatives from every political party ensures the event remains neutral. It is also a great opportunity to develop stakeholder relations.

This generation of young people has the power to influence and effect change at a time when they are facing so many challenges, from inflation to a climate change.

We have a huge role to play in empowering our students to speak up and unleash their passion and a perfect opportunity to do it, so let’s help them find their voices, just like I found mine.

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