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New student voter registration service proves popular ahead of general election

New student voter registration service gains its 1,000th sign-up – Momentum builds ahead of general election

New technology that allows university and college students to quickly and easily register to vote has reached its first milestone – more than 1,000 students have now signed up to vote via a website launched earlier this year.

As the government gears up for a general election, it is hoped that the student voter registration service will help to increase democratic engagement from a voting cohort that is under-represented in elections*. It will also significantly reduce the administrative burden on participating universities and colleges in England, which are now required by the Office for Students to enable the electoral registration of students.

The 2017 Higher Education and Research Act puts the onus on universities and colleges to do this. 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.

A simple solution for the higher and further education sectors has been developed by the UK’s education technology not-for profit, Jisc, in consultation with the Academic Registrars Council,  the Association of Heads of University Administration, and the UK’s electoral registrar community.

With students’ consent, the service collects essential information from the university (such as date of birth and full name) and the student (National Insurance Number) and automatically transfers it to the relevant, participating electoral registrars at local authorities, so reducing the effort and expense it would take for universities to work with multiple electoral registrars across the UK.

Jisc takes care of the contracting and the data is transferred securely via the UK Access Management Federation, which almost every university and college already uses.

The service, which emerged from a suggestion by Dr Paul Greatrix, registrar at the University of Nottingham, was piloted successfully before launching for all on 1 April, 2019. So far, 17 universities have signed up, with many others interested in doing so.

Dr Greatrix, whose university has started using the SVR service this term, says:

“Enabling student voter registration has been a significant challenge for many years. Now that all universities in England have a legal obligation to help enable students to get on to the electoral register, every institution will want to do this, as quickly and securely as possible.

“I’ve been really keen to address this problem and was convinced if anyone could come up with a secure and smart IT solution then Jisc could. I was really pleased, therefore, to be able to support this project to develop a straightforward way to enable more students to get on the electoral register and it is great to see how many universities are now getting on board. 

“It’s vital that institutions enable their students to play a full part in the democratic process and I would strongly encourage all universities and Students’ Unions to get involved.”

 Those under the age of 24 are the least likely to be on the electoral register, and it’s hoped the new service will help to change this. The Electoral Commission’s latest research shows that groups which are less stable in their living habits, such as students, are also less likely to be registered to vote. 

For example, in 2015, only 27% of people who had been in their property for up to one year were on the electoral register, compared with 96% of people who had lived at the property for over 16 years. The same report found that only 65% of 18 to 19-year-olds and 67% of 20 to 24-year-olds were registered. This is compared with 96% of those over the age of 65.

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