Uni doesn’t just give you debt; it gives you politics

By Ivana Domic | @IvanaDomic_
Illustration by Charlotte Franks

You truly haven’t been a RMIT student, if you haven’t;

  • Been stopped by a cluster from the Socialist Alternative group in the middle of sprinting to a tutorial
  • Had a lecture interrupted by someone calling for the government’s downfall
  • Seen a protest outside the State Library
  • All of the above

With the Labor, Liberal, Greens, and Socialist Alternative groups, RMIT is home to a wide range of political views. To some people, these groups may seem irrelevant and irritating, even necessitating answering a fake phone call to avoid being trapped in conversation. Regardless, it doesn’t really matter what your views are; being at university influences your political opinions and attitudes more than you might think.

Most people attend university at eighteen, straight out of high school. Finally, you’re legally able to vote, and drink. (Probably best not to do both at the same time.) The constant news of funding cuts to education and rising uni fees becomes more than just a headline; it becomes your responsibility. You have the opportunity to meet many diverse groups of people from other states, other countries and with other experiences. You’re exposed to different views of the world, often challenging your own.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission, 18 year olds had a participation rate of over 70% at the 2016 Australian Federal Election. Compared to in 2013 where only around 50% of 18 year olds voted, the data suggests a significant increase in political awareness in young people. There is a well known saying that goes like this: Any man who is under 30 and is not a liberal has no heart, and any man who is over 30 and not a conservative has no head. It has been attributed to numerous people from George Clemenceau to Winston Churchill, but the core of the maxim remains the same.

Universities tend to have a reputation for being overtly left wing, and the proposition does have merit. For instance, the Socialist Alternative group tends to be much more visible than the other groups at RMIT, and the university itself has a progressive stance on issues such as gender-neutral bathrooms and marriage equality.

It might be true that people become more conservative because of different priorities. Some academics, such as Professor James Tilley of the University of Oxford, propose that a swing to conservatism later in life is a generational phenomenon. For instance, younger generations especially ours are more likely to have gone to university, unlike our grandparents. As a result, we are more likely to hold left-leaning views.

The world has changed enormously in the last century, and the political landscape has also undergone a major facelift. It’s not just President Trump, Brexit, and the supposed return of populism, but our own politics at home. Rising dependence on opinion polls, a never-ending news cycle, and a little thing called the internet have all affected our governments and election campaigns. It’s very easy to be disappointed in our politicians, as our generation’s understanding of politics is undoubtedly shaped by seeing five Prime Ministers come and go over the last ten years. Regardless, politicians are aware that young people are paying more attention to politics than ever before the Coalition’s PaTH internship program is just one example.

The reality is, you don’t have to be in Building 80 for university to be influencing your opinions. This period of job hunting, moving out, travelling, and studying plays a huge part in shaping your identity. By extension, it’s shaping your political views. So, do you have to take one of the Socialist Alternative flyers? No, not at all. You already have an opinion on whatever they’re talking about, whether you like it or not.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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