As the new NUS president, I know how vital it is for students to vote
We millennials are pegged as generation apathy: inactive at the ballot box, allowing others to decide our future. Youth voter turnout has been in decline in this country since the 90s. In just six weeks’ time, it will be critical that the voice of the students I have been elected to represent is heard. The absolute priority for students across the country must be to get registered to vote in the general election. Over the past three days, the NUS conference has promised to run the biggest voter registration drive we have ever held – and as the president-elect for the NUS, I plan to make sure we do exactly that over the next four weeks.
It’s no secret that my generation has been dealt a poor hand on the issues that matter – that is why it is so vital for us to make our voices heard. From education to housing, from the environment to the EU, the advantages and benefits that generations before us took for granted are now under threat. As always policies and rhetoric are being pitched as young versus old, or rich versus poor, but it’s time to look at what we must build rather than what must be taken away.
It is the responsibility of my generation to paint a picture of the future we want to see. When we challenge reversing the trebling of tuition fees or the loss of the education maintenance allowance (EMA) we do so for our brothers and sisters coming after us, because we can see the impact these policies are having on our peers. We want – we demand – a better future for the next generation. This general election provides a pivotal moment not just for young people, but for all of us to demand a future of opportunity.
Education provides that opportunity. Education gave me my voice. As a black woman and a single mother of two, from south London, it was my further education college that gave me what I needed to put food in front of my daughters and get me into work. It gave me the understanding to see what was happening in the world around me. And it was my students’ union that gave me the power and voice to do something about it. When I say education saved my life, I mean it. When I speak to other students in the NUS, and learn about their stories and aspirations, it drives me to lead an organisation that fundamentally believes education is the most transformational tool available to us. This is why I want to see progressive education policies front and centre of every party manifesto in this general election.
During my time in and out of education over the past decade I have witnessed some huge challenges to students and institutions. Colleges are struggling to deliver high-quality education, having lost 25% of their funding since 2010. College mergers forced through by the incoherent area review process will see a reduction in support services, and students unable to access courses they want.
Student debt has not only trebled in higher education, but has also been extended to further education through 19+ loans. Crucial grants such as EMA, disabled students’ allowances and the adult dependants’ grant have been cut, putting up barriers for thousands of current and potential students to getting the education they deserve. My student movement wants big answers from political parties in this general election.
But I’m a pragmatist. I know that this election is being held in the wake of the biggest shake-up in European politics, and that Brexit is going to dominate. I also know that students are worried that their dreams of an open and diverse world will be cast aside along with free movement. The Brexit result hurt many students across the country. The increase in hate crime that followed reached our campuses, and politicians neglected their duty to protect the diversity of our whole population in favour of populist, xenophobic and racist rhetoric. Ever since the referendum result, students have been demanding answers on how something they categorically didn’t vote for will work for them. We will bear the brunt of this for a long time.
And EU students still have no certainty over their future and their right to study here in the UK. If parties want the votes of my millions of members, they must make a clear, unequivocal pledge to protect the rights of EU students to stay in this country, to study and prosper. International students are feeling threatened, and that they are not welcome here. The next government needs to welcome these learners, remove them from net migration targets and let our education system and our society benefit from the best students around the world.