Lords Select Committee hears from our University on student democracy and civic engagement

Our University and Sheffield Students' Union presented key information to the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement during its visit to Sheffield last week (Thursday 16 November).

ParliamentMembers of the Committee learned about the University's pioneering work as a civic anchor institution, as well as award-winning student action in the community. A further focus of the Committee was the shared work of the Union and University to encourage political engagement and participation amongst students in student, local and general elections, regardless of party affiliation.

The University was invited to speak to members of the Committee following an approach our Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, to share its track record for encouraging civic and democratic participation amongst students, widely acknowledged as the best in the UK.

The evidence will feed into the Select Committee’s report on citizenship and civic engagement, to be published next year.

The Lords Committee heard evidence about our pioneering scheme in collaboration with Sheffield City Council, to register students to vote as part of the start-of-term university registration process. This model, which ensured three quarters of students were on the electoral register, has since been cited as an example of best practice in Parliament.

The Committee also heard about the Union's efforts to actively engages students in the political process by producing student manifestos, arranging local hustings for election candidates and encouraging students to vote on polling day.

The Select Committee was also interested to hear about the contribution of the large number of students engaging in voluntary work across the city. This was accompanied by information relating to successful student representation at University-level, including vibrant democratic processes within our Students’ Union with schemes encouraging students to vote for and/or stand as Sabbatical and Student Officers in Union elections, as well as student participation in representative roles in the University.

Our Students' Union Welfare Officer Reena Staves said: “The Students’ Union and the University share a common agenda which aligns with the student interest.

“In the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2017, the University was voted number one in the Russell Group and third best university nationally, with the Students' Union voted best in the UK for the ninth year in a row.

“This was partly because students are encouraged and given opportunities to engage with the Union and with the University as members, and in the city through volunteering activities as active citizens.”

Attending the Committee were University Secretary and Director of Strategy and Governance Dr Tony Strike; Reena Staves; Ana Hilgado-Kingston, Head of Student Administration and Anne Cutler, Data Protection Officer. John Tomlinson, Electoral Services Manager for Sheffield, was also present.

Professor Matthew Flinders, founding Director of our Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics, attended as an expert advisor to the Committee, a post he took up this September.

Dr Strike said: “The University welcomes opportunities to share best practice with government and in particular to show the numerous ways we work positively with students.

“We are proud that our university positively supports and encourages engagement in political processes and debate, although we do not endorse any political party.

“Decisions being taken by governments have a profound effect on the lives of young people and directly impact on issues of concern to them - if they are excluded from a relationship with democratic politics because they do not register to vote, democracy is undermined.

“The University has shown that universities can successfully facilitate electoral registration and that students can be full participants in local and national life."