Who will be the next AUTSA president? Q&A with candidates

By Justin Hu (he/him)


If you haven’t already noticed, voting has opened in this year’s student representative council (SRC) elections. While this will be an election with the fewest actual contents in at least five years — one of the few remaining competitive races is also one of the most important positions for the direction and future of AUT’s student association.


The role of the AUTSA president is arguably more critical than many of the other positions up for voting. For one, the candidate will be working and paid full-time in the position. The president is also elected to be in the role for two years — longer than all other positions on the student representative council.


As president, they attend AUT’s monthly governance meetings (AUT Council) and lead the student representative council while also chairing the student association’s governance board. Alongside this, they have a wide variety of other responsibilities, which include fronting up to students and the university for consultation on significant issues. The president plays a major role in helping set AUTSA’s direction and ultimately are the face of the association.


Debate has called up the four candidates running and asked them a series of questions about their candidacy. We’ve re-produced their answers below — with edits for clarity and also brevity.


Michael Kanara — 35, studying Social Entrepreneurship

Vice President for Academic Affairs (2021-present) and former Disabilities Affairs Officer (2019-2020)


Why do you want to be president of AUTSA?

I think that I've had enough experience to know what needs to be done in order for the association to hit its initial statement of being the best student association in New Zealand. Being vice president this year, dealing with senior staff at AUT, I’ve used a particular strategy that has worked this year — where they haven’t in previous administrations.


What makes you qualified for this role?

At this point, I am the longest-serving current SRC member with enough experience in both academic and community aspects that are needed for a good president. With enough experience in both academic and community aspects that are needed for a good president.


What were some of your achievements in your time?

A highlight for me was Minister Ayesha Verrall coming to AUT about the midwifery announcement — I had a lot to do with getting her in. Getting the paper tickets for the bus and the parking to all be online. And the upgrade next year of the walkway at the north campus to the bus station.


If you were elected president, what would you try changing about AUTSA— if anything?

There’s so much and it comes in two aspects. One is how the association is run, and secondly is how we conversate with AUT. At present, there’s a lot of things that both staff and students have come to me with concerns about the future of the association and I have a plan of attack to ensure that the association continues into the future.


I would tend to ask those questions that have concerned the association’s finances, because I believe that we could have used the money that we use from AUT more efficiently. With this current administration, where there’s been some frivolous spending, some of it covered by Debate, that should’ve been questioned from the beginning.


Is AUTSA succeeding at its mission right now? Their mission statement is to become 'the best student association in Aotearoa.'

I do not believe so. And that comes on numerous fronts — some of which I explained in the letter that Debate covered in the March episode. Plus a lot of other things that employers in a normal workplace typically do in this country — take for instance, a personal development plan. There seems to be no real plan to increase efficiency of the staff and the student representative council.


[Editors note: In August 2020, Kanara said he felt AUTSA had lacked the ability to run a competent electoral process, SRC meetings, financial processes and had poor internal communications. He added that the organisation lacked accountability for everything aforementioned. These complaints were published in Debate in March.]


What’s your differentiating factor as a candidate?

On two fronts, one is graduating from multiple institutions, and my age and experience.


Describe yourself in three words

Honest, caring and passionate.

Ashley Kirkness — 28, studying within the Business, Economics and Law faculty

Former Diversity Affairs Officer (2015-2017) and former City Campus Rep (2018)


Why do you want to be president of AUTSA?

I've noticed the decline of the strength of the student voice, and I don't think that that's anything to do with the students, but more so to do with the representation structure and who's in it. I want to be able to step up, challenge and be able to connect with people. Making sure that students get their voice and that those voices are built on actual relationships that have been fostered through the president and their student representative council.


What makes you qualified for this role?

I started off my journey as a student at AUT, I started off as a student ambassador in 2015 and then became a senior ambassador. I went into the Oceania Leadership Network, where I worked with the south campus team. During that time, I was also running a student club and that exposed me to a lot of the infrastructure that’s currently in AUTSA from a club perspective. Then I was asked to become part of the SRC where I came on as diversity affairs officer. I stuck at it for a couple of years and found my footing when I came under Dharyin and Renata when they were president and vice-president in 2018.


I understand that there are particular relationships, as well as staff members and individuals that have particular ways of doing things and just understanding those small nuances means that I’ll be able to better go in with an angle they’ll understand. So yeah, really one of them is understanding the infrastructure that is behind AUT and AUTSA.


If you were elected president, what would you try changing about AUTSA— if anything?

So the first thing that I would look at as president is actually the way we train our student reps. With all the experience I've had, my wholehearted belief is that our SRC are not trained in the correct way — they spend the first two or three months trying to find their feet in the new year and they suddenly have large expectations once they get into the semester. There also needs to be an understanding from the get-go that if you're going for these roles, there is an expectation that you will be there at those trainings.


Straight after working with the student voice component, I’ll work on visibility. AUTSA’s visibility right now in the student body is quite poor. We want the SRC to be loud and to create spaces for students to have conversations with them. Third thing is transparency, if we’re going to go with the whole *oh we’re doing work behind the scenes* — then where is it? Where can we see it? Like, how can we access it? We need to be transparent and visible.


Sometimes we get caught up in a lot of meetings, which are important, but if we go into those meetings and don’t actually understand why we’re sitting there, or what we’re fighting for as a student rep — well then those meetings become redundant because it’s just you turning up to a meeting, but you haven't got any student voice behind you. And that's why we need to be transparent and visible because those platforms will help us be able to actually carry student voice into that space, as opposed to ourselves and maybe our friend’s opinions.


Is AUTSA succeeding at its mission right now? Their mission statement is to become 'the best student association in Aotearoa.'

No, wholeheartedly I can say no. It’s definitely something they could work towards but they need to take a look at the steps that they’re actually taking in order to be that entity. I think they definitely need to have some more consultation on the statement with students, because at the end of the day, is being the best even something that students want? Or do they want a vision statement that is more practical? I don’t believe it's the most well-guided mission statement and because of that, they are not achieving it.


Describe yourself in three words

Funny, unconventional, caring.


Sara Youseff — 19, studying Business Administration and Management


Why do you want to be president of AUTSA?

At the end of the day, I am a student and I’ve seen so many things happen at AUT that a lot of me, my friends and others disagree with. AUTSA’s mission is to be the student voice and I don't think they’re upholding that standard. As a student, I've seen and heard student struggles and I’ve decided that change needs to happen — and that change hasn’t been touched on in the last few years, which really pissed me off.


What makes you qualified for this role?

I think what really differentiates me with the other candidates — which would answer the same question — is that I'm super passionate about people. I'm very, very brutally honest and I will call out the things that I've been doing wrong and voice my opinion. I love helping people and it gives me the best satisfaction ever. I have a lot of new initiatives and new ways to improve the value of us as students. I love AUT so much and I care about the challenge and I'm super passionate about people


If you were elected president, what would you try changing about AUTSA — if anything?

I do want to have more sports events, activities, or projects, free food and coffees, and make sure that the students know that they're more than just academics. I also want to make mental health a priority. The counsellors are not being held accountable for so many things that they are doing. The waiting list is extremely long and this needs to be shortened. I know that we have counselling students, who are studying mental health, and they are looking for placements — so why are we not giving them placements at AUT?


We should also have better financial assistance processes that are less invasive. I know that we don't have the financial capabilities to assist a lot of students that need it the most and most importantly, make everything very visible. I feel like AUTSA is not listening to the students in hearing them out and actually following up and doing what they say.


I want to have more internships and more awareness around opportunities. I also really want to work with clubs because I believe it's the number one source of engagement on campus and so I want to give them my full support and give them mentors. I think AUTSA is very short-staffed when it comes to clubs — so helping clubs, why are we not giving opportunities for students to do placements at AUTSA.


Is AUTSA succeeding at its mission right now? Their mission statement is to become ‘the best student association in Aotearoa.’

Absolutely not, absolutely not. They keep saying that they want to be the best student association in New Zealand, they want to help the students, they want to do the student voices. And unfortunately, they’re not upholding what they’re saying, like if you're going to say you want to be this, then be it.


What’s your differentiating factor as a candidate?

I don’t want to throw shade at anyone but I genuinely think that AUTSA does need some fully new blood and new initiatives and someone who will say the action plan and definitely do it. I’m not going to stop until they’ve been improved.


Describe yourself in three words

Loyal, trustworthy, good listener.


Jaskaran Singh — 18, studying Health Sciences


Why do you want to be president of AUTSA?

I didn’t know much about the role, I just got nominated for it by my friend. Before, I wasn’t going to put myself forward, but then once I got put forward I was like I should do it. I think there’s a lot of student voices in this uni that need to be brought forward, a lot of ideas. We need a strong voice.


What makes you qualified for this role?

I run a business and I’ve been in leadership roles as well. For me, everything’s a team effort.


If you were elected president, what would you try changing about AUTSA— if anything?

A lot of students are smokers or vapers and I think they want a place to go smoke and vape, so that’s a priority that I’d do. Make a little zone that people can smoke or vape or just chill out. A grade bump as well cause of the uncertainty from Covid.


Is AUTSA succeeding at its mission right now? Their mission statement is to become 'the best student association in Aotearoa.'

They’re doing alright, it’s not easy due to Covid, but it could be better — the current president and vice president are very good people and very strong voices.


What’s your differentiating factor as a candidate?

I'm not saying they should vote me, they should vote for whoever thinks they’ll best represent them. The other candidates are very straightforward and serious — part of the job is to leave it to the people who go to the uni, listen to them and see what they have to say.


Describe yourself in three words

Trust the process.


Voting in the AUTSA SRC elections close on October 1st.