Opinion: The importance of politics at university

Keelan Balderson, a first year journalism student, explores politics at the University of Lincoln and the university’s various political societies.

Photo: Keelan Balderson.

In recent years a core discussion about young people getting involved with politics has focused on whether 16-year-olds are worthy of the vote, which they now have in Scotland. The broad argument against extending the vote has centered on their lack of participation in adult society, perceived lack of understanding of politics, and whether they have the capability of making a wise choice.

At the university age of 18 and beyond, you’re suddenly a contributing adult and the vote is yours whether you want it or not. Some 18-year-olds voted back in May simply because they could, others already had strong political opinions and couldn’t wait to go to the polls. At the University of Lincoln many in the latter camp will have signed up to the Politics Society (PolSoc) and/or their chosen political party’s society during last week’s Societies Fayre.

There is of course, another group. A group that simply doesn’t care. They will rarely engage with party politics or ‘the issues’ of the day. But are such students shunning an important and perhaps even an added responsibility that comes with a university education? Sam Trendall, President of the Lincoln Labour Student Society, seems to think so.

“We feel that students engaging in political activity is really important. We are the future doctors, teachers, business people, lawyers and all other occupations,” Sam said. The society received 180 sign-ups during the Fayre last week.

Indeed, if you or I are successful with our degree programmes we will take positions in society that will help shape it. As an amateur journalist, my content has the power to influence people’s political opinions and other ideas about the world. I had better make sure I know what I’m talking about.

Other occupations could require you to be the actual decision makers or the implementers of policy. At the very least you and your chosen career will be affected, so if you don’t engage with politics now you will have less control over your own life later.

“We in the Labour Society feel it is important that students play a part in shaping the future of our country rather than letting others do it for them,” continued Trendall.

“Universities have historically been places where young people can express a wide range of views in healthy debate, and with the uncertain future regarding Brexit and graduate employment prospects, it is really important that universities including Lincoln continue to allow students to do so.”

Elsewhere, fellow journalism student Thomas Haynes put his name down for the Conservatives at the Societies Fayre and intends to get involved.

“As a member of the Conservative Party I of course was interested in joining the society here at the University of Lincoln. I like to be around like minded people a few times a week.”

The society reported a ‘great turnout’ for their first social event at Revs in Lincoln and will be hosting a Quiz for its second social on October 12. After that it’s time to be a paying member.

“£5 annually is nothing really,” said Haynes.

Of course, engaging with politics during university doesn’t mean you have to pick a party and toe the line, especially if you feel your foundation knowledge is lacking or you’re still forming your worldview.

As an older fresher I have already entertained typical left-wing ideals, as well as libertarianism and anarchism, and I’m currently fascinated by the rise of both the so-called ‘alt-right’ and ‘social justice’ left on both sides of the pond. No party or philosophy has managed to take firm hold thus far and my opinions will likely continue to change whilst I study.

If you’re still dabbling with politics, then PolSoc (who received 127 registrations this year) might be a good place to start.

According to President Connor Roberts, they ‘aim to remain neutral and support members from all sides of the political spectrum’, and will be meeting regularly for socials with anyone ‘interested in politics in any form’.

Roberts also said they’re ‘aiming to reach more students who feel disenfranchised by the current political system’.

“We believe that politics is an integral part of life and only by being involved in it can we change it or uphold it for the better,” he concluded.

While this can be appealing to those unfamiliar with politics, the idea of being part of or attending a formal society won’t appeal to all of you (it doesn’t to me) – but you can still be engaged.

Remember that watching the news is engaging with politics, discussing – or ranting at The Swan – about an issue with a mate is engaging with politics. Starting or reading a blog, attending a talk, watching or making a YouTube video, posting on social media, joining or observing a protest, venturing in to the deep dark corners of the web – all of these activities can be productive ways of engaging with politics and educating yourself. And at university, this is only the beginning.

More information about the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Politics societies can be found on Lincoln SU’s website.

Update: Since publication, Stephen Lonsdale, President of the Liberal Democrat Society, told The Linc: “In terms of interest, we’ve done rather well as a society.

“Given that we are new this year, and that we are currently a smaller party than Labour and the Conservatives, I’d say that our 30 or so signups was very good indeed.

Stephen went on to add: “Politics at university is extraordinarily important for an array of reasons- for a lot of people, for example, it’s a time and place where they can explore hitherto unknown ideologies and political concepts.

“At university, you begin to construct your identity, really, and politics is a key part of that.” 

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