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Seven out of 10 students want the UK to stay in the EU – but that could change

  • 30 November 2015

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and YouthSight polled over 1,000 undergraduates on the UK’s place in the EU during October 2015.

We questioned over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students to find out:

  • their views and depth of feeling on the UK’s membership of the EU;
  • their likelihood of voting in the forthcoming referendum;
  • their thoughts on whether 16 and 17-year olds should be allowed to vote;
  • their preferences on how universities should act in the referendum campaign;
  • their views on the current student finance rules for EU students; and
  • their expectations of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation on UK membership.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

‘The headline results are unequivocal. Students back the UK remaining inside the EU by a huge majority. Seven out of 10 say they want the UK to stay in the club. It is clear the UK’s membership of the EU is more popular among students than among the population as a whole. There are diehard antis on university campuses but they make up only a small minority of students.

‘Yet, in terms of winning the student vote at the referendum, there is much to play for. Most students say they have not followed the debate closely and there is clearly a soft underbelly to the group hoping for the UK to stay in the EU. More than one-in-ten students (11%) who back staying in the EU admit to giving the issue “no thought at all” and another 18% have given it only a “little thought”.

‘This could all change. Most students are registered to vote and expect to vote in the referendum. They also expect their university leaders to encourage them to vote – but they oppose being told how to vote. Indeed, they are clamouring for campus debates that include both sides of the argument.

‘Because students are spread all over the country, their voting power was diluted at the general election. That will not be the case in a binary stay/leave national referendum. Indeed, if the stay and leave sides are as close as recent polls suggest, then the two million UK students could clearly affect the result one way or the other.’

Contact: [email protected]

Notes for Editors

  1. The results are taken from What students think about the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU: Wave One of the HEPI / YouthSight Monitor, which will be published on Monday, 30th November 2015. YouthSight questioned 1,005 full-time undergraduate students in higher education between the 5th and 14th October 2015.
    • Seven out of 10 (70%) students would vote for the UK to stay in the EU in a referendum held tomorrow. There is no difference in support for membership by gender, although male students were more likely than female students to back leaving (17% against 11%) and less likely to be undecided (13% against 19%).
    • Students are not a lost cause for the leave campaign because around one-third of students say they have given the topic only ‘little thought’ (21%) or ‘no thought at all’ (13%) and a similar proportion say they hold their views ‘not very strongly’ (27%) or ‘not strongly at all’ (6%). Six out of 10 students say they have followed the debates ‘not very closely’ (41%) or ‘not closely at all’ (19%).
    • One in nine (11%) students who would vote to stay in the EU in a referendum held tomorrow admit to giving the issue ‘no thought at all’, compared to one in 20 (5%) of those who would vote to leave.
    • An overwhelming majority of UK students (89%) believe they are registered to vote. Around two-thirds of students (63%) say they are only registered to vote at home and one-in-eight (12%) say they are only registered to vote at their place of study, with 22% saying they are registered in both places.
    • When asked to plot how likely they are to vote on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 meaning ‘will definitely not vote’ and 10 ‘will definitely vote’, 75% of UK students chose between 6 and 10, including 46% who opted for 10 ‘will definitely vote’.
    • Support for a lower minimum voting age for the referendum lags behind support for the status quo (by 34% to 44%) – but not in Scotland (57% compared to 29%).
    • A majority of students think university leaders should encourage students to vote in the referendum: while 77% say they should, only 10% say they should not, with 13% opting for ‘don’t know’.
    • There is substantial opposition to university leaders telling their students how to vote, with fewer than one-third of students (29%) believing this is appropriate and nearly two-thirds (63%) thinking it is not. Younger students are keener on universities advising their students how to vote, but it still amounts to only around one-in-three (35%) of the age group.
    • When asked if their university has ‘a duty to host debates with speakers for the UK being part of the EU’, 44% of students agree and 30% disagree. When asked a similar question about ‘speakers against the UK being part of the EU’, the results are not very different (40% agree and 34% disagree). The results were different when students were asked if their university has ‘a duty to host debates with speakers for and against the UK being part of the EU’ (60% agree and 21% disagree).
    • Half of students (50%) say Universities UK’s strong support for the country’s continued membership of the EU will make no difference to how they vote in the referendum, but one-third (32%) say it will make them more likely to vote for the UK to remain in the EU and only 4% say it will make them less likely to do so.
    • Students from other EU countries are treated like local students for the costs of tuition. There was considerably more support than opposition for the current arrangements. However, those who ‘strongly support’ (21%) or ‘support’ (27%) the rules did not amount to an overall majority – although in Scotland, it reached 59%.
    • Nearly half of students (47%) said they would be more likely to vote to stay in the EU if David Cameron was able to achieve ‘meaningful reforms’ during the renegotiation on the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU, while 29% said it would have no effect. However, because most students already expect to vote for the UK to remain in the EU, only 6% of students intending to vote for the UK to leave the EU say they could swing to the ‘in’ side on the back of a successful renegotiation of the UK’s terms of membership. Meanwhile, an unsuccessful renegotiation could see 12% of the 70% of students who would vote for the UK to stay in an EU referendum held tomorrow change sides – or 8% of all students.
  2. On Tuesday, 1st December 2015, Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education at the OECD will be delivering HEPI’s Annual Lecture on ‘Value-added? How do you measure whether universities are delivering for their students?’
  3. HEPI’s mission is to ensure that higher education policy-making is better informed by evidence and research. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan.

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