With just nine weeks to go until the general election, the game of political chess is in full swing.
There is everything to play for. No party can boast a clear lead, smaller parties are seeing an increase in members and politics has become a hot topic amongst voters of all ages. This may well have been at the back of Labour Party leader Ed Miliband's mind when he pledged to cut tuition fees by £3000 a year.
Young people are familiar with promises regarding tuition fees. In 2010, they were promised that tuition fees would be abolished; instead, they tripled, saddling students with a larger amount of debt than ever before. Not surprisingly, then, Miliband's announcement met with scepticism. If he wants to win the student vote, he will have to find a way to convince them of his sincerity.
In a poll on The Student Room, 19.67% of the 422 participants believe Miliband's pledge and think the tuition fee cut will work. 28% are willing to believe him, but they fear that it won't work. 24.64% don't believe that Labour will follow through on their promise, and 27.49% don't believe anything that any of the parties have to say on this issue.
Not all students mind the current system. They feel that the tuition fee loans and payment arrangements are fair. Of these students, some are more concerned about maintenance loans, as these affect their quality of life whilst at university. Others are concerned about where the money will come from, and fear that a cut won't be sustainable in the long run.
Some students currently paying £9000 a year are unhappy, because they would be the losers in this rise and fall of tuition fees. One student states, “If he does it, they had better reimburse those of us who paid £9000 for three years.” They would like for their debt to be lowered by £3000 for each year that they have paid the higher fees, in line with the proposed changes. Naturally, the question arises why Labour won't pledge to abolish tuition fees, as Germany did in 2014. More and more businesses require a degree for the jobs that they have on offer, and besides, it is beneficial all around to have a well-educated society.
Nick Clegg's coalition U-turn leads to doubt whether Miliband will keep his word, should Labour enter a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who oppose the cut. And there is a general lack of trust in politicians – many students are concerned that the promise is no more than election talk. A student considering who to vote for in May sums it up, “Won't happen, it's just a laughable attempt to get young people to vote Labour.” However, not everyone agrees.
“I think he will follow through,” a supporter says, “It's very realistic to cut tuition fees, rather than abolish them altogether which some parties... are attempting to do. I'd definitely rather leave with £18k of debt than £27k!” “I will support Labour if he does this,” another student vows. These sparks of optimism will be music to Miliband's ears.
What is clear is that all parties have work to do if they want to win the trust of younger voters. Plenty of young people look beyond single issues. They have concerns about the state of society. Here are five ways in which the parties can move forward:
1. Despite signs of recovery, the prospects of young people remain bleak. A university degree is no longer a guarantee of a well-paying job. Youth unemployment figures are high, and many young people find themselves unable to move out of the parental home. Lower tuition fees do not go far enough in solving these problems.
2. Young people see beyond their own needs and interests. They see the struggles of their older family members, and a rise in inequality, and they want for something to be done about this.
3. A lack of transparency and cross-party finger-pointing is unappealing to voters, and this includes younger voters. What they want is honesty. Clear answers. Accountability. Responsibility. A true admission of mistakes when mistakes have been made, and clear solutions instead of short-term fixes. This would help restore faith in the political system.
4. Many young voters care about the environment, which is evident from the popularity of the Green Party amongst their generation. It is felt that the bigger parties do not offer genuine solutions, nor take the problem seriously.
5. Lastly, young people need for political parties to show that they care about them, and their votes. The seeming lack of political engagement amongst young people is, in part, due to this lack of care. This, unfortunately, has led to even less engagement on behalf of the political parties. But young people matter. Their concerns matter. Instead of being neglected, they should receive the attention they deserve. Our youth is our future.