Roisin Guyett-Nicholson looks at what your Students’ Union have done to campaign for students before the General Election.
With the general election imminent and the future of third level funding less sure than ever before, one must wonder why the SU have not seen fit to launch a voter registration drive. As students in the UK gear up to defend the right for students to vote on campus, our omnipotent SU seem to think that encouraging students to vote is beneath their impressive hair-cutting abilities.
With a large number of students registering last year specifically for the marriage referendum, there is now a hugely inflated number of young people that may be voting in a general election for the first time. This presents a clear opportunity for student bodies, such as UCDSU and USI (Union of Students in Ireland) to influence prospective government policy. While USI seem to be aware of this opportunity, UCDSU are lost in the wilderness of events and campaigns.
Last year in the months leading up to the referendum there was a large drive from the SU to get students registered. Widely publicised across campus through posters, there were centres set up to register students. Similarly a widely publicised ‘Yes’ campaign was run by the Union in the lead up to May last year. Over 4,500 students were registered in UCD, the highest figure for any third-level institution in the country. USI similarly ran a campaign which saw 20,210 students register, in which the UCD figure is not included.
Yet this year, the SU seem reluctant to capitalise on these newly registered voters, which could push politicians to take student issues seriously. While they say that accommodation and consent are big issues for them, how exactly do they expect to affect change without encouraging students to vote?
In a recent article in The Irish Times, Una Mullally argued that no political party has canvassed the youth vote, which has significantly increased. Almost 25,000 students registered to vote in the first half of 2015. This number has since risen again with 10,000 registered in November by USI at a “Rock the Register” event. USI have continued to run registration clinics leading up to the election.
A large influx of a new voting bloc should have a significant impact on party policy and offers a clear mandate for Students’ Unions across the country to lobby for student issues. While USI have run numerous campaigns, such as Repeal the Eighth Amendment and releasing a manifesto of specific student issues, UCDSU, who are not affiliated with USI, have yet to realise that there is a General Election at all.
“Almost 25,000 students registered to vote in the first half of 2015”
For the largest University in the country, surely fees and accommodation should be a priority, particularly as this year’s tenure draws to a close. The General Election is offering an opportunity for one last big campaign to really benefit students.
Instead, however the SU seem to content to focus on their various campaigns which are focused solely on UCD and have had a mixed degree of success. Despite the fact that the Campaigns and Communications officer’s role is specifically to run campaigns supporting the SU’s official position on national issues across campus, there have been virtually no national issues brought to attention. The C&C officer is designed to communicate not only what the SU is concerned about but also what it’s doing to deal with these concerns. By not running any kind of voter registration campaign, it implies that the SU simply do not care if students are registered or not, thus leading to a large number of students being left out of the conversation.