Eastleigh College hosted a hustings to help engage young voters in advance of this week’s general election. Questions including university funding and job security were among those posed to parliamentary candidates from the Eastleigh constituency.
Paul Holmes (Conservatives), Sam Jordan (Labour) and Rob Meldrum (Green) attended the event along with ex Liberal Democrat MP, Mike Thornton, who stood in for candidate, Lynda Murphy. The 120-strong audience included Eastleigh College students and apprentices, and a number of places which were offered to learners at nearby colleges.
The ‘Question Time’ style event was organised by Eastleigh College’s Head of Learner Journey, Lorna Wagner, who was keen to encourage the youth vote. She said: “This will be the first time some of our younger students have voted, and as such we’ve ensured they knew what to do to register to vote, and inspired them to research the various parties’ policies.
“This hustings has been a pivotal opportunity for them to challenge the promises and get beyond the headlines.”
At the last general election the proportion of younger voters was low so the college was particularly keen to engage 18 to 25-year-olds. Lorna added: “Some of our part-time professional and technical adult learners came along, although the majority of those who attended are students and apprentices in their teens. We’re delighted that so many of these young people have become interested in politics. Questions were submitted in advance, many of which were focused on FE and university funding. Interestingly, Brexit was bearly mentioned.”
Lorna, who also chaired the hour-long event, kept a handle on candidates as they answered questions and debated. The atmosphere at the Chestnut Avenue campus was heated at times, although some students were surprised at some of the similarities between the party policies.
Nineteen year-old Ayat who is planning on going to university to study psychology was interested to hear that Labour plans to fund university fees and maintenance loans. Level 3 public services student, George, was encouraged by the Conservatives’ promise of 20,000 additional police officers.
Despite not being old enough to vote yet, 16-year-old health and social care student, Kirsten, said: “I’ve not really known much about politics until now, but have been trying to find out about what everyone stands for." Shantel, 17, who is also studying health and social care, added: "It was good to come to this because it isn’t just about the policies, it’s about whether you actually believe they are going to do what they say. I’m more about who is enthusiastic and down to earth.”
The event closed with a mock election during which the learners were invited to vote. While the college wouldn’t divulge the result, Lorna did comment: “There was a clear winner!”
Eastleigh College’s Chief Executive and Principal, Dr Jan Edrich, concluded: “It was encouraging to see how interested and hungry for information the learners were. There was an excitement in the air, and I’m delighted they’ve had this platform to hear first-hand from local candidates to help them make an informed decision at the polling station.”
The Eastleigh College Board and Senior Management Team have launched an ambitious strategy for the period 2020-24 that sets out the College’s priorities to see more learners, be more successful, more often.
The College has remained open throughout the Covid-19 pandemic for many learners and as from September 2020 all learners (including those planning to attend at College House) have returned to a full high-quality education programme as per government guidelines.