President’s Report – Week 12, Sem 2, 2016

Chloe Smith

This week, for one of the last reports of my term, I want to talk about student representation and the important role it plays within the machinery of this university. Many of you don’t really understand the nature of what student reps do, and that is our fault and to our detriment: we don’t publicise our work well enough or take the time and effort to communicate with students about what we do. But it is important and vital for all of us.

The reason I want to discuss this now is because of some recent changes the university has made to the nature of student representation. A few weeks ago, the SRC was alerted, by chance, that the University Executive had removed the presidents of the SRC and SUPRA from “ex officio” members of the Senior Executive Group Education Committee (SEG Ed) and replaced them with one student member to be nominated by the Chair of the Academic Board from the pool of student representatives on the Board.

SEG Ed is one of the most important committees student reps sit on, as it reports directly to senior university management and can approve a range of policies relating to curriculum, admissions, teaching and learning, academic standards and practices, and so on.

This change was made with no student consultation, nor any warning that it was happening. Effectively, it cuts the number of student reps on the committee in half and allows a member of staff to make a captain’s pick rather than it being the elected undergrad or postgrad rep or their nominee. This is fraught with potential issues about who is chosen and whether the choice was made with the best interests of students in mind. Additionally, the presidents of the student organisations are paid a fulltime wage, have a team of experienced staff to brief them, and by virtue of sitting on a range of other committees, possess a broader understanding of the issues that the committee discusses. Students without these resources available, who may be juggling a range of other commitments, might not be able to provide the same level of understanding and commitment to the role.

University management likes to say that it values student representation, but this process suggests that we aren’t given the same respect afforded to other members. It suggests that management doesn’t care about ensuring that student representation is effective and engaged rather than tokenistic. And it shows that management doesn’t understand the importance of students being able to raise and resolve issues at an early stage, rather than allowing them to develop and multiply because no one else realised there was a problem to begin with. The best people to represent students are their fellow students, who they have elected to the role. This should be a fundamental principle. Clearly, it is not.
We have raised these concerns with the university. But our voices can be bolstered if our fellow students write to their faculty representatives, both students and staff, and back our case up. You can find out who yours are by looking up the Academic Board members at http://sydney.edu.au/secretariat/academic-board-committees/academic-board/membership.shtml. Don’t let your voice be ignored.

Enjoy your week!