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Students say stay in the EU, but majority probably won’t vote

ByJoshua Swain

Mar 14, 2016

With the EU referendum approaching, Joshua Swain interviews students to hear their opinion on the EU vote.

It is less than 100 days to go until the EU referendum, and the media is more excited than Nigel Farage holding his first pint of the day. News outlets are apologising for their blanket EU coverage, only to continue supplying us with more EU analysis and opinion. Political journalists Laura Kuenssberg and Andrew Neil are working overtime, interviewing everyone and anyone about their thoughts on the EU. But does anyone actually care? The Student has carried out a poll to find out what students at the University of Edinburgh (UoE) think.

Of the 250 students surveyed, 60 per cent said they would prefer to stay in the EU, with only 12 per cent wishing for a British exit. 28 per cent were undecided. The results generally follow national trends, with approximately 70 per cent of UK students in favour of staying and 13 per cent wanting to leave (Higher Education Policy Institute). Edinburgh students, like the rest of UK students, appear to be more pro-EU than the general public. Current polls show public opinion is split down the middle.

So can students be relied upon as a guaranteed ‘stay’ voting bloc? Not quite. When asking UoE students “do you care about the result of the EU referendum?”, 56 per cent said no. Nationally, only 46 per cent of students said they would definitely vote on June 23. Of course, the extensive campaign is likely to develop interest among students but the overwhelming conclusion stands. Students appear to be more apathetic than convinced on the EU question.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute agreed with the uncertainty of the student vote: “In terms of winning the student vote at the referendum, there is much to play for. Most students say they have not followed the debate closely and there is clearly a soft underbelly to the group hoping for the UK to stay in the EU”.

The campaign may increase interest and strength of opinion but its longevity will likely fatigue voters, potentially increasing levels of apathy and lowering turnout. Students may be in favour of remaining in the EU but failing to vote is as good as voting to leave.

Google searches relating to the EU referendum have had an impressive spike since February, when David Cameron returned from Brussels with his re-negotiation deal. However, if this spike is viewed in the context of other searches, the extent of disinterest is clear. For example, the Google search increase for the EU referendum is only 27 per cent of the search increase for Kim Kardashian. The UK is interested in the referendum, but seems to be far more entertained by somebody’s derriere.

The institutions that students are members of, universities, are unashamedly pro-EU. Universities UK, a representative body of 133 universities including Edinburgh, believes the funding implications of leaving the EU would have a negative effect on the quality of education and research. They reference the annual £1 billion EU research fund provided to UK universities and the derived benefits for the economy. It is estimated the 125,000 EU students sustain 19,000 jobs stimulating £2.2 billion of economic activity each year.

Contrarily, Vote Leave’s campaign director Dominic Cummings is confident of securing the student vote, suggesting ‘Brexit’ would benefit education: “Once students focus on how much money we send to Brussels that could be spent on education instead, and the implications of the supremacy of EU law for the erosion of civil liberties and democratic government, we are confident we will win their support”.

The result of the referendum could force drastic change to university funding not to mention the number of EU students studying in the UK. Perhaps students should care? But they do not appear to.

IMAGE: Tulane Public Relations

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