Professor Margaret House is Vice-Chancellor at Leeds Trinity University. She shares her thoughts on how important it is to inform students about the EU Referendum.
Almost 2 million students in the UK are eligible to vote in the EU Referendum, but around one-third of students say they have “given the topic only ‘little thought’ (21%) or ‘no thought at all’ (13%)”, according to a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) which polled students in November 2015.
At Leeds Trinity University, we feel that informing our students about the EU Referendum is as important as the result itself. We want our students to feel wholly informed about the arguments for and against remaining in the EU; we want them to know how to register to vote, and the importance of it; and we want them to understand that their vote can make a difference.
That’s why on 3 June, we’re holding an EU Referendum Debate on campus – and inviting students, staff and the local community to attend. After an initial paper ballot of the audience, our two guest speakers – John Grogan (the former Labour MP for Selby), representing ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ and Carl Chambers (a Leeds-based barrister and accountant) representing ‘Vote Leave’ – will argue their cases for and against remaining in the EU. There will then be a final paper ballot of the audience to see if any of the speakers have managed to win over the audience.
We held a similar debate on campus last year before the 2015 General Election. Our students particularly enjoyed having the opportunity to challenge the speakers through the question and answer session; and with some exceptional journalism students at Leeds Trinity, I wouldn’t be surprised if the speakers’ arguments for and against staying in the EU are subject to rigorous questioning!
With less than 100 days until the EU Referendum, ensuring our students feel confident about their vote is a tough task
We’re doing everything we can to ensure students are fully informed about the referendum, but with less than 100 days until the EU Referendum, ensuring our students feel confident about their vote is a tough task – especially with students concentrating on end-of-year coursework, exams, and in our case, professional work placements.
At Leeds Trinity University, we pride ourselves on being one of the first universities to pioneer compulsory professional work placements with every degree course, which is one of the reasons why 95% of our 2014 graduates were employed, or in further study, within six months of graduating. We work in close partnership with hundreds of businesses, setting up thousands of placements, to support our students with their chosen career path. But why does this matter? What does this have to do with the EU Referendum? It matters because our professional work placements take place between April and June – during the final run-up to the vote – meaning the majority of students won’t be on campus.
We are however still fully committed to informing our students about the EU Referendum – and it’s encouraging that 77% of UK students say “university leaders should encourage students to vote in the referendum” with 60% agreeing that “universities have a duty to host debates with speakers for and against the UK being part of the EU” (HEPI 2015).
So in addition to our referendum debate, over the next few months we’ll be distributing fact sheets highlighting the known facts for and against remaining in the EU and the impact each would have on universities. These will include information on working and studying abroad through programmes such as Erasmus, collaboration on research projects with universities across Europe, opportunities for EU students to study in the UK, and the funding pots available to EU universities.
We’re working with Leeds Trinity Students’ Union (LTSU) to ensure students receive regular, consistent and informative communications on how the EU referendum will impact them directly, how they can find out more, and how important their vote is. We’re encouraging students to register to vote at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
Whatever the result on Thursday 23 June, I’m confident that as a university, we’ve done everything we can to ensure our students are fully informed about both sides of the argument.