New app to encourage university students to register to vote

Jisc launch student electoral registration service to help academic registrars to comply with the Higher Education and Research Act 2017

Students are well known for freely expressing their political views, but they can’t hope to instigate change if they aren’t registered to vote. The rules around electoral registration changed last year, which now puts the onus on universities to enable sign-up for students to the electoral role. But that means a whole lot of extra work for academic registrars, setting up a raft of new systems and revising rules and practices around the collection of data. It’s an expensive and time-consuming headache.

Fortunately, a painless, simple solution for the whole sector will launch later this year in the guise of an app developed by the UK’s education technology solutions not-for-profit, Jisc.

Its new student electoral registration service will helpacademic registrars in universities to comply with the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 and, in doing so, drive democratic engagement.

Students in halls used to be automatically registered en bloc by their university upon enrolment. But since 2014, when the Government introduced Individual Voter Registration, every eligible voter has been required to sign up singly. This was designed to reduce the chances of fraud.

The 2017 Act requires higher education (HE) providers to “take such steps as the Office for Students considers appropriate for facilitating cooperation between the provider and electoral registration officers in England for the purpose of enabling the electoral registration of students”.

The new web app has been developed by Jisc in consultation with the Academic Registrars Council and the Association of Heads of University Administration. With the students’ consent, the service will collect information from the university (such as date of birth and full name) and the student (National Insurance Number) and automatically transfer it to the relevant, participating electoral registrars at local authorities, so reducing the administrative burden on universities of working with multiple council registrars across the UK.

Jisc will take care of the contracting and the data will be transferred securely using the UK Access Management Federation, which every HEprovider already uses.

The service will also provide reports and dashboards for both academic and electoral registrars,which will allow them to track electoral registration both within their institutions and across the sector using anonymised, aggregated data.

The service will be offered on a subscription basis to recover the costs of development and operation. Jisc estimates that, assuming 100% uptake of 109 institutions in England, using the app would save the sector approximately £3m over the period 2019/20 to 2021/22 if compared to the aggregate costs of providers implementing individual systems.

The app will be ready for a pilot scheme in September, in time for the new intake of students, with the full service available by September 2019.

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