Why are so few students running for SRC?

by Tasarla Harman

The Student Representative Council (SRC) offer paid roles to students who want to advocate for their rights. Yet so few students choose to run as candidates. Tasarla investigates why.

According to the Arc UNSW website the Student Representative Council (SRC) “is protecting and promoting your rights on campus.” It is linked to every aspect of university life, by: 

  1. “Liaising with the university to improve the quality of your education” 
  1. “Representing UNSW students on a campus, state, national and international level,” 

And finally, by 

  1. “Providing support for special groups all across campus.” 

Given this summary of the SRC, one could reasonably expect each student to have at least a basic knowledge of who they are and what they do. And in the event that a student doesn’t know about the SRC they are free to get in touch with the student body they don’t know anything about by contacting their representatives through email. Great!  

Yet, as we cast an eye over the Paddington Domestic Officer position we are met with empty spaces and vacant looks. Other positions such as the Students with Disabilities Officer, Paddington Representation Officer, Indigenous Officer and the Paddington International Officer, specifically, only have one candidate running for the position and are thereby appointed without contestation.  

In 2018, UNSW reported 62 509 enrolled students, so why is it so difficult to fill 2425+ Queer SRC positions? A cursory discussion with fellow students revealed the four main reasons for not participating in the SRC were: 

  1. They didn’t see a significant SRC presence on campus. 
  1. They didn’t think it impacted them that much.  
  1. They were time poor. 
  1. They believe the SRC was a distraction from their studies.  

Unfortunately, all of these causes have been exacerbated through the coronavirus pandemic, but at this point what hasn’t? The first and second finding point to a crisis in the SRC’s public relations effort.  

Unseen and unheard by a large portion of the student population, of course the positions are unlikely to be filled, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. If we return to the initial point of the SRC – to protect and promote student rights on campus – the seamless continuation of their project is fulfilling exactly that.  

Each year, the Commonwealth government-commissioned Student Experience Survey measures students’ views about five elements of their tertiary education, ranging from skills development and learner engagement to teaching quality. In 2018, UNSW scored 74% for student satisfaction which, in university grading terms, is a strong credit and one point off a distinction. In 2019 this figure saw an 11% drop to 63% following the introduction of the trimester system. At this time, not only did some members of the SRC not agree with this shift, but they were also instrumental in organising various protests in the lead up to this change. When our student rights were threatened, the Education Officer from Left Action, along with other members from the Education Collective stood up and voiced our concerns.  

Further, the SRC function with an express focus on the rights of students that are often least protected or promoted. The SRC address an often-marginalised demographic and they cater to the needs of these people. The Ethno-cultural collective provide an “Ethno-Cultural Room” for our culturally diverse student body. This is “a safe chill-out area for culturally diverse and international students. Located in the Arc Precinct, Baxter College, off Basser Steps.” There is also a “Queerspace” which is “a safe place to relax and connect with other LGBTAQ students … You can find the Queerspace in Room 9.21, Level 9, Chemical Sciences Building.” And a “Welfare & Disabilities Room” which is “a space for any student living with a disability or welfare concerns to chill. There’s a couch, kitchenette and food to help you out while you’re at uni. It’s located in the Arc Precinct, Baxter College, off Basser Steps, Monday to Friday 10:00am – 5pm.” You can visit or contact the SRC through the Arc  Reception or the SRC webpage for more information and access to these spaces.  The SRC work in subtle and often unseen ways to contribute a vital resource for various members of our student population. We are fortunate that these efforts are able to go so regularly unseen as the SRC consistently accommodate the often-excluded rights of various social and cultural groups on campus.  

Now, to return to my initial question, “Why is no one running for student council?” We can find the answer in the types of positions that are not being filled. The Paddington Representation and Domestic Officer fulfil their role in a physically removed location from the rest of the SRC, who are located on main campus. It is therefore understandable that the reach of the SRC struggle to extend to another campus in another suburb. Further, the demographic of the Paddington campus is perhaps more focused on Fine Arts and Design than student politics, given their chosen path of study. The uncontested positions – the Paddington International Officer and Students with Disabilities Officer – represent a smaller faction of the UNSW population. It is understandable that International Students who are tasked with establishing their life in another country and perhaps learning a new language are unlikely to take on another task of running for SRC. It is also understandable that Students with Disabilities may be met with greater physical or mental challenges to run for SRC, (particularly given UNSW’s impossible maze of elevators shrouded in stairs to navigate campus.) Yet, for exactly these reasons it is important that these positions are filled. SRC provide an important platform to stage the diverse population that contribute to UNSW’s rich student life. If you identify with either of these roles or feel you can make a difference, I strongly encourage you to apply.  

The Paddington Domestic Officer position is still vacant and open to students currently learning on this campus!