With the deadline to register to vote on Monday 20 April fast approaching, we caught up with Sussex Students' Union's President Abraham Baldry, who explains the new and exciting ways in which his SU has been ensuring students have their say this May.
Tell us about your role as President at Sussex Students’ Union.
I represent the views of students to the university and outside bodies, as well as leading on the union’s campaigning work and chairing the union’s executive group.
Historically, Sussex is a politically active campus. Is it living up to this reputation during this election year?
Brighton Pavilion is a marginal seat which has driven and increased in the past few months. As everywhere, some students are disinterested in politics, which can be frustrating, but I see this more as a failure of the political classes to engage with young people than as an innate disaffection.
What do you think the burning issues are for your students at the General Election?
As well as the economy and the cost of education, housing is a key issue is that Brighton has some of the most expensive rents in the country. Students at Sussex are concerned about the impact of climate change, and we recently hosted a ‘reverse hustings’ with The Guardian discussing this issue.
Are your local prospective parliamentary candidates actively listening to students about these issues?
Working with Brighton Students’ Union we’ve produced the Brighton Students’ Housing Manifesto, a list of policy suggestions for candidates in the local elections. While some parties have engaged well to this, we have been disappointed with the Labour and Conservative groups who have failed to engage.
Your union made a breakthrough this year by working with the local electoral commissioner and the university to ensure that Sussex students can now register to vote online through the university’s intranet using their university ID number rather than their national insurance number. Tell us about how you achieved this.
Having to use your national insurance number to register to vote is a massive barrier to students, may of whom don’t have this information to hand. My personal view is that making voter registration more difficult for students seems like a fairly cynical move by a Conservative and Liberal Democrat government.
When trying to find a way around having to provide this information, we noticed the university verifies students identities when they enrol. In light of this, after a number of meetings between ourselves, the university, and the electoral commissioner, we were able to remove this requirement, enabling students to register to vote through the university intranet.
As a result of this, have you seen an impact in terms of the amount of University of Sussex students registered to vote and openly discussing politics on campus?
There have been a number of hustings on campus, and in a town with thirty thousand students, candidates in the elections are rarely off campus. Although we can’t directly monitor the number of students who have registered to vote, we’ve seen a massive increase in registrations in postcodes in and around the university.
We understand that your students’ union has been going into lectures to promote the importance of students voting on May 7?
We recorded a 30 second YouTube video explaining how to register that was played at the start of all lectures for a week.
And outside of lecture theatres, too?
We’re sending the university’s Residential Advisor network to every student living on campus with a tablet ensuring that they are registered to vote. We also gave out cake in Library Square along with registration forms.
Are there any key elements from Sussex Students’ Union’s elections promotion strategy that you’d encourage other SUs to adopt?
Voter registration closes on Monday 20 April, so there may not be much time – but if the election falls outside of term time, doing a big event the night before or the night of the election will help ensure that students are in town for Thursday 7 May.
You can find out more about Sussex Students' Union by visiting their website at www.sussexstudent.com or by following them on Twitter at @USSU.