Education! Education! Education! and the EU Referendum…

By Maisie Williams

A recently published YouGov poll revealed that young people with a higher standard of education were twice as likely to vote remain in last year’s EU referendum. Polling showed that individuals who left formal education after taking their GCSE’s voted 2:1 to leave, the split was equal at 1:1 for those with an A-level standard of education and, in reverse, university students/graduates voted in favour of remain 2:1.

So, what are the reasons behind those who undertook higher education voting in favour of the United Kingdom remaining within the European Union? It would be reasonable to say that the answers rely on a culmination of socioeconomic factors. It is not unprecedented that there is a feeling of disenfranchisement amongst many of Britain’s younger generations today.

Many young people, in addition to struggling to find suitable employment and dealing with issues such as the gig economy and zero-hour contracts, also have to contend with a bloating housing crisis. For some, it seems reasonable to suggest that particular government policies in regards to issues like immigration and trade regulations are to blame. Conservative University Minister Jo Johnson summarised this by saying “Too many people were feeling they are not sharing equally in the benefits of growth, and too many people (were) basically feeling left behind.”

For graduates and those attending university the circumstances are very different. The university environment in itself allows young people to integrate with foreign students from across Europe on a daily basis. Having the opportunity to communicate and bond with people from different countries, cultures and religions helps to establish a sense of understanding and unity, and makes you quickly realise that we’re really not all that different. For those who have witnessed the influx of European immigration into British towns and cities in the recent decade, it is easy to see the social impacts that can have on the economy and communities. In part this has led social integration to fail in many parts of the UK, leading some to develop an ‘Us and Them’ mentality.

Another important factor to address is the role of the media. The very nature of academia in itself requires students to analyse and deconstruct information being presented to them. It could easily be suggested that university students/graduates voted predominantly in favour of ‘remain’ as they were more aware of the consequences of leaving the EU, and better informed on the issue as a whole. British right-wing media in run-up to the referendum, such as the likes of The Sun amongst others, were guilty of flying the ‘Vote Leave’ banner, whilst pushing unfounded claims made by the Leave campaign, such as the £350 million being given to the NHS instead of the EU. These sensationalist statements convinced many that a vote to leave would be more beneficial for British society. Ultimately, it could be argued that for a significant portion of young working-class ‘leave’ voters, their own vote was an opportunity to be heard, fuelled by hope that the outcome would finally shake up Westminster politics in a way that would acknowledge and benefit them.