The Political Studies Association (PSA) is the leading association in our field in the United Kingdom developing and promoting the study of politics, with an international membership including academics in political science, theorists and practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, teachers and students in further and higher education.
In 2015, we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta – a democratic landmark in Britain and beyond, which paved the way for the protection of citizens’ rights and the rule of law. In the spirit of this document, the PSA challenges higher education leaders to make a clear commitment to the democratic ideal of active citizenship in the 21st century: to strengthen democratic skills and political knowledge, particularly of young people, and to encourage and provide opportunities for civic and political engagement within universities and communities.
Many studies have pointed to historically low levels of youth participation in electoral politics, and declining trust in and engagement with traditional civic and political institutions. The task of promoting active citizenship is therefore both urgent and long-term. These are international trends. But youth turnout in the United Kingdom is amongst the lowest in Europe – a large proportion of young people are not even registered to vote. At the same time, students face many pressing challenges – from the increasing cost of housing, to the difficulties of finding a permanent job.
The PSA is encouraged that young people remain interested in political issues and actively involved in their communities. On higher and further education campuses across the UK large numbers of students continue to volunteer for good causes and are politically active within their Student Union. We feel that the strong values and positive actions and achievements of young people are insufficiently recognised in the media and by the public at large.
Universities and colleges have an important civic mission to educate students for citizenship. Universities can be influential ‘sites of democracy’ founded on a commitment to promoting public debate on campuses and in local communities. They have a vitally important role to play in addressing the challenges of an interdependent world; in preparing graduates not only for their roles as workers and consumers, but also as citizens who possess the knowledge, skills, and motivation they need to bring about positive change in our democracies.
Research shows that educational institutions can have a positive and lasting impact upon young people’s civic and political engagement. Clearly not all young people go on to study at universities and colleges, but around half do so. In this context, higher and further education can play a more pivotal role than ever in fostering civic and political engagement and the rejuvenation of British democracy.
We call on leaders of universities and colleges across the UK to sign up to this Charter for Active Citizenship accredited by the Political Studies Association; and in so doing, declare a public interest in strengthening their commitment to the promotion of democratic engagement within their respective student communities and supporting civic and political engagement on campuses and in local communities across the country.