The Government has put dogma before common sense by announcing that they will not require universities to adopt the Sheffield student voter registration model, which gives students the option to register to vote when they enrol at university, despite backing from the House of Lords.
I have led the campaign to make the model of integrating university enrolment and voter registration, which was successfully developed between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield City Council, compulsory for all universities. The ‘Sheffield model’, which has been supported by the Cabinet Office, has won the backing of the Association of Electoral Administrators and the National Union of Students. In trials it achieved voter registration levels exceeding 65%, many times higher than other approaches.
I proposed an amendment to the Government’s Higher Education and Research Bill to achieve this objective, which was rejected in the House of Commons. An amendment to the same end proposed by Labour Peer Baroness Royall won support when the Bill was debated in the House of Lords, and was due to return to the Commons this week. During negotiations on the final drafting of the Bill, which must be concluded before Parliament is dissolved for the General Election campaign, I urged the Government to adopt the simple tried and tested Sheffield model. The Government’s agreed amendment to the Bill on the issue proposes a weaker obligation on governing bodies of universities to cooperate with electoral registration officers in local councils.
This is hugely disappointing. The Government clearly accepts there is a problem getting students on the electoral register, and they know that our system works, but their proposed amendment falls short of the action needed.