In a recent report released by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), it has been claimed that despite all the rhetoric surrounding them, students actually did not have much of an impact on left-wing progress in May’s General Election.
As it stands students can choose between voting in their hometown constituency or in their university one. The document negated pre-election claims that multiple constituencies with a large amount of students would see Labour gain, from the Conservative Party, such as Hendon, Lincoln, and Plymouth Sutton & Devonport. HEPI had previously predicted six Conservative-Labour marginal would be gains for Labour on election night owing to their high student populations – yet only one constituency, Lancaster and Fleetwood, did. The constituency for the University of Loughborough even saw Nicky Morgan, the Conservative’s current Education Minister, not only keep her seat but also increase her majority.
However, the report did prove that a few constituencies, such as Chester, Ealing Central and Acton, were won by Labour owing to “the strength” of the high student vote for Miliband’s party. One of the key aspects of the report is its findings, or rather its conclusion, on the topic of tuition fees as a factor in the way that students voted.
“Superficially, it is possible to argue that the financial settlement for undergraduates in place since 2012 with higher fees and higher loans has had as little impact on voting behaviour as it has had on applications for full-time study,” the recent report states.
This conclusion can also be seen in the way that the Liberal Democrats fared in student-heavy constituencies. Lib Dem MPs who rebelled against their party in 2010 by voting against the change to increase fees to £9,000 did not face a different experience to those who supported the change.
HEPI’s analysis also identifies that “before the election, they [the Liberal Democrats] had five of the 20 seats with the highest proportion of students, but afterwards, they only had Leeds North West”. However, regarding the impact on the increase of university fees, the HEPI notes that this is more likely to be a long-term effect, rather than one that would have been significant in 2015.
In Norwich South, Liberal Democrat, Simon Wright lost his seat to Labour’s Clive Lewis. Wright was first elected to parliament in 2010 thanks in part to a large support base amongst students. By 2015 however, many students supported Lewis’s campaign.
With regards to the 2020 election, the document notes that future graduates may be swayed by promises to unwind student loans in the face of their debts. HEPI note that “In 2030, those who began higher education when fees first went up to £9,000 will be in their mid-thirties, which is the average age of first-time homebuyers and a typical age for female graduates to have their first child,” and thus conclude those whose vote was not decided by the 2010 move to increase fees, could be in the years following their graduation.
Having said that, it does seem that little can really be predicted at this moment in time, particularly as it remains to be seen what the impact of boundary changes to constituencies will have on the student vote.