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EU debate: Sheffield students want IN

Thursday 12-05-2016 - 17:17

Ahead of the EU referendum in June, Sheffield College Students' Union gave its students a chance to have their say. President James Bangert tells us how they got on.

In June, we the people of Great Britain will be able to take part in the most important vote in a generation, the EU Referendum. Well, not everyone. Many students in Further Education will be ineligible to vote as they will be under the age of 18. Yet it is in fact these students that will feel the long term effects, of the country’s decision.

In April Sheffield College Students’ Union gave its students the opportunity to finally have their say in the great EU debate. I believe the college was perfectly placed to test what our students thought. Sheffield has one of the richest and poorest constituencies in the country as well as being a recognised city of sanctuary. With 18,000 students attending Sheffield College from across the city we had a perfect mix of people from all backgrounds of life.

During our mock referendum all our students were asked the same question; Do you think the United Kingdom should stay IN the European Union or should the United Kingdom come OUT of the European Union? Students were then asked to cast their ballot by ping pong balls into bowls marked either IN or OUT. There were also materials available for students to read about both sides of the argument. The Union also remained impartial throughout the referendum. After four days of voting, the students of Sheffield College decided that they wished to remain IN the EU by 251 votes to 114. This was a great result for all who wish to stay in the union, myself included. The mock referendum was a great success for our students and the college as a whole. BBC Radio Sheffield reported on the referendum as did our local paper the Sheffield Star. Both were favourable and highlighted the importance of students being involved in democracy.

However, this mock referendum was more than just getting our students to say yes or no. This referendum was about engaging our students in a serious debate about Europe and democracy as a whole and they did not disappoint. During the four days, I and staff assisting me, engaged in lively and thought provoking debate with students. Some students were extremely opinionated and could not wait to vote and speak their mind. Other students had little knowledge but wished to learn more about the impending referendum and how they may be affected. Friends debated amongst each other about the pros and cons of staying or leaving and some went away and debated for over an hour before coming back and finally voting. We also took time to register students that are eligible to vote in June, making sure they are entitled to their full democratic rights.

After the mock referendum was over and I was able to reflect on a whirlwind of a week I realised that actually the result, whilst remarkable, was not the real success. The real success was the engagement of our students and their desire to learn more rather than just listening to the fear mongering and propaganda so regularly pumped in to the media. Sheffield College Students’ Union gave its students the opportunity to have their say but it also gave its students the opportunity to question both sides of the argument and ultimately make a more rounded decision. Whatever the result in June I know that students from Sheffield College who can vote will have done so with a clear argument in their minds.

In the final analysis, I believe that our students and students across the country have come to realise the enormity of the question being asked and how much we are set to lose if we decide to leave the European Union. By remaining neutral during the process our union has allowed a natural debate to occur and in the end students on the whole recognise they must vote to stay within in the European Union.

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