Put voter registration in student inductions, universities told

Report says higher education institutions should do more to foster ‘lifelong active citizens’

June 17, 2024
Source: iStock/ bizoo_n

Compulsory electoral registration should be introduced during UK students’ university inductions, according to a report.

The study, published on 17 June by the Civic University Network and the UPP Foundation, argues that universities have a fundamental responsibility to promote robust civic and democratic education regardless of a student’s field of study.

It puts forward a series of proposals to help equip students to become “lifelong active citizens” and to be more involved in their communities, and highlights the importance of democratic education and participation in an “important year for democracy”.

The introduction of compulsory electoral registration as part of campus inductions would make students more likely to vote, the paper claims. It also urges universities to host election hustings to encourage engagement, and for elected representatives to hold regular on-campus surgeries for students and staff.

“Many students are first-time voters who lack sufficient knowledge of the voting process, and recent reforms to electoral registration and voting systems have had a negative impact on student electoral engagement and participation,” the paper adds.

The report also recommends that universities that do embed the student civic experience into curricula be acknowledged through metrics such as the Teaching Excellence Framework and the National Student Survey, and that a National Student Civic Awards be created.

Richard Brabner, executive chair of the UPP Foundation, said student participation in local communities was “incredibly valuable” because it improved “town-gown relations” and supported student employability.

“This report offers a plan for what an effective student civic service programme could look like, and we call on the next government and the higher education sector to embrace its findings,” he said.

Some institutions have already signed civic university agreements with local community partners, and the report recommends that these be reviewed and revised to prioritise the student civic experience.

Campus resource collection: Teach your students to be engaged citizens

The report was compiled from two workshops held by the Civic University Network and the Institute for Community Studies, alongside the UPP Foundation, the Edge Foundation and the University of Liverpool.

The network is attempting to promote universities as “civic and democratic communities of participation” to prepare students to be active citizens.

Another proposal put forward called for universities and students’ unions to undertake an annual “student civic health check” to assess levels of engagement and participation.

Chris Wiggington, pro vice-chancellor for global and academic partnerships at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Higher education holds incredible potential to support students to become engaged and active citizens.

“There is a need to promote universities as civic and democratic communities of participation to prepare them for a lifelong commitment as active citizens.”


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