AUTSA Plans to Tackle Dwindling Student Engagement

By David Williams (he/him)

A majority of AUTSA’s new student rep council was elected without opposition, with some seats filled without any candidates running for them.


The student association’s newly-elected president, Sara Youssef, told Debate that she was disappointed but not surprised by the low number of candidates for the election. “It goes back to the visibility of AUTSA. The engagement has been going down for the last five years.”


Only 20 candidates were nominated at last year’s SRC elections to stand for 15 roles, with some contesting for multiple positions. There are 22 roles to fill in total.


Meanwhile, elections in 2020 saw 103 candidates running for all but one position, while the 2019 elections had 51 candidates and only failed to fill three roles.


The SRC election window opens for just over two months between late July to early October. While the president serves two-year terms, each year students vote for two vice presidents, three campus reps, eleven officer portfolios and five faculty reps.


Last year’s results saw seven candidates win uncontested races while another eight roles had zero candidate applications, resulting in the positions remaining vacant.


To resolve the impasse, AUSTA called a Special General Meeting in early December in the hope of filling the Te Ara Poutama Faculty Representative, Diversity Affairs Officer, Postgraduate Affairs Officer, North Campus Rep, South Campus Rep, Business, Economics and Law Faculty Rep, Health and Environmental Sciences Rep, and Māori Affairs Officer roles. The AUTSA constitution allows the SRC to fill any vacant position by voting on the people who put their names forward for the roles after the initial election.


The meeting succeeded in filling five of the eight vacant roles, leaving Diversity Affairs, North Campus, and Te Ara Poutama devoid of representation on the SRC. In addition, Disability Affairs Officer Margaret Fowlie left the position due to her no longer being an AUT student. At the time of writing this article, these four positions are yet to be filled.


Sara tells Debate that at the first SRC meeting on the 16th of February this year, they plan to talk about how the roles will be filled. “We think it is important to have this representation on the SRC, so we will be discussing how to go about it.”


Much like the five roles appointed by AUTSA at the end of 2021, these four vacant roles will again be appointed. This will leave AUTSA in the position of having 16 out of the 22 positions on the SRC either elected by default or appointed rather than elected.


But Sara isn’t concerned by the appointment process. “We don’t want to be doing elections all over again because it will be a bit confusing for students. But students have chosen us and will trust us to choose the right person.” Adding “if they put their names forward, they actually want to do it, and we can’t just leave the roles vacant.”


However, she has big plans to increase the visibility of AUTSA. “I’m planning on going around campus and talking to students and telling them what AUTSA actually does for them.” She guesses that around 80% of students don’t know what the president does.


“People don’t know what the student association does for them, which is very concerning. As a student, you’re actually paying for the services that AUTSA does.”