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Student debt: promises, politics and the press

26th July 2017

George from Grayling’s Leeds team shares his insights on student debt and its influence.

Whilst it was expected that Brexit would be the all-consuming issue of the recent general election, upon reflection it was arguably the debate on student debt that was more integral to Labour’s surge in popularity amongst younger voters.

To many students tuition fees are a cloud over their time at university and the election raised valid concerns about accessibility and quality of education on offer. The influence of the student vote in key constituencies such as Sheffield Hallam and Leeds North-West was particularly notable in coming back to haunt the Lib Dems involvement in the coalition.

As student debt rises over £50,000 and the poorest are the hardest hit, shock headlines continue to deliver alternative messages in print and digital media. It is vitally important for political parties and stakeholders to shape how key arguments such as this, are delivered in an ever changing media environment.

Part of the popularity of the policy to remove tuition fees could be explained by the use of digital media channels such as Facebook Live to stream rallies of Jeremy Corbyn speaking in university areas to students. Labour’s communications team realised this was an accessible format with useful coverage at the targeted demographic of the youth vote on social media. Alongside this reminders aimed at young people to vote undoubtedly contributed to a turnout of 18 to 24 year olds of 66.4 per cent, up from the 43 per cent in the 2015 general election.

The issue of university tuition fees taps into a wider concern about what political parties can promise the electorate and deliver. Whether the ambition to write-off student is a realistic commitment is questionable but it demonstrates the effectiveness of positive key messages distributed by Labour through multiple platforms. This laid out a clear challenge to the Tories to challenge Labour on its economic record but this response was poorly distributed and did not engage with students.

Only now are the Tories responding by labelling these manifesto promises as ‘misleading’ but it remains to be seen whether students respond favourably to these allegations. Communications will again play an important role in deciding voting intentions on this important issue but those involved must consider whether to report facts or fiction.

With the debate set to continue, student debt could have a significant influence in the foreseeable political landscape.



Grayling Team

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