Labour is writing to all university vice-chancellors and college principals urging them to help students sign up to vote when they enrol in higher education this September.
Cat Smith, the shadow voter engagement minister, and Gordon Marsden, the shadow higher education minister, urged the higher education bosses to act after a programme at Sheffield University saw a huge jump in students joining the electoral register.
There was a high student turnout for the general election in June, with half a million more people added to the electoral register, many rallying behind Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. One pre-election survey suggested nine out of 10 students who were entitled to vote had registered and most said they planned to use their vote on 8 June.
However, figures suggest some universities lag behind in terms of registration, with some as low as 13% of students on the electoral roll compared with 76% registered at Sheffield.
Many students may be registered at their home addresses rather than their universities but Labour believes the best chance of getting students to get into the habit of voting is to get them on the electoral roll when they sign up for college or university.
In their letter to principals, they said: “The University of Sheffield has shown that integrating voter registration within the student enrolment process can significantly improve electoral registration levels … As you will know, university governing bodies in England are now required to cooperate with electoral registration officers in local councils, under section 13 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.
“The higher education sector now has the opportunity to play a key role in removing barriers to participation and ensuring that student voices are heard in elections.
“We realise that it is too late to make the necessary changes to enrolment systems for your 2017 intake, but hope that you will consider it for future years. However, for the current year it would be really helpful if you could liaise with your local Electoral Registration Officer and run a voter registration campaign at the start of the new academic year to sign up new students and prevent continuing students from falling of the electoral roll.”
A high student turnout is thought to benefit Labour as younger voters overwhelmingly opted for Corbyn’s party over Theresa May’s Conservatives. Large student populations are believed to have contributed to Labour’s success in ousting Tory MPs in towns such as Canterbury and Reading at the last election.