>Elections see a 16.5% increase on students voting compared to last year, but only 13.5% of the student population voted
With the 2012 UWESU elections over and the new candidates having been elected for next year, the WesternEye reflects on the week’s events and its results. The voting turnout this year was the highest it has ever been in UWESU history, with 4055 votes cast. This was a 16.5% increase on last year’s results. However, in comparison to the 30,000 student population at UWE, only 13.5% of students voted.
Comparing this statistic to other university elections across the country, UWE’s student participation in voting was considerably low. Leeds University Union – who are one of the best in the country – saw a record number of 9753 students voting, translating to 31.4% of their student population. Furthermore, Sheffield University’s elections recorded 35.5% of students’ votes and York University’s elections accumulated an astounding turnout of 36.8%. It can be argued that the aforementioned universities achieved a higher percentage of their students voting because these institutions have been around longer than UWE. However, other ex-polytechnic universities, which acquired their university status under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, such as University of Brighton and University of Portsmouth still achieved a noticeably higher turnout than UWE. University of Brighton’s Union received 20.5% of their students’ votes, whilst University of Portsmouth received 16.3%. A students’ union which did accumulate fewer votes than UWE was Oxford Brookes, whereby only just over 10% of their student population voted.
Despite the vast amount of posters covering UWE’s walls during elections week, and candidates actively campaigning across campuses, it would appear that more needs to be done to encourage and engage with students about the importance of student democracy, and more so, what the role of the Students’ Union is. According to UWESU research conducted in regards to the new Students’ Union building, many students are unaware of what the Union actually consists of. One student was quoted: “The time when voting comes around, it seems everyone appears out of the woodwork – is this really a good advert for the SU only being seen when they want votes?”
SU President, Colin Offler, recognises that although the student votes had reached over 4000, the turnout was in fact “pretty poor”. When questioned on what can be done to increase student participation in elections, he responded: “There appears to be a huge problem with communicating with students. It’s a case of questioning how we are going to reach the 30,000 students that attend UWE.
“There needs to be some sort of data agreement access, whereby [the SU] can send out emails to the whole student body, instead of just the 19,000 we currently have on the system.”
Offler suggested that there should be more incentives for students to vote, such as prizes. However, he also recognises that students should want to elect executives to improve their student experience, not because they are being encouraged through materialistic gains.
Despite the turnout of the UWESU elections being slightly below the national average of 14.5% (NUS SU election research 2010), since 2005 the Students’ Union has seen a 287% increase of students voting. With given time and the introduction of the new Students’ Union building, UWESU should see the number of students participating in the elections process increase.
Whilst the elections is the ideal opportunity to engage with as many members of the student population as possible, the NUS suggests that ‘in order to improve the number of people participating in our electoral processes we have to satisfy students’ demand for greater accountability, easier access to elected representatives, clearer engagement routes and less bureaucracy.’