Student Elections are upon us, and representation is the topic on everyone’s mind. None more so than the candidates putting their hands up for key roles across the board. In this first wave of Elections, students at the University of Newcastle will have the opportunity to vote for their one Student on the University Council, representatives on the Academic Senate and on their college boards.
Yak spoke with with four of the candidates standing for election, Ash Barnham, Tanisha Blake, Lucas Dowling and Dylan Shoesmith. We talked to them about why they have decided to run, what they think the biggest issues at our university are, and the importance of student representation on our governing bodies.
Ash Barnham and Lucas Dowling have both nominated for the student representative position on the University’s governing body – the University Council.
Ash and Lucas both agree student representation is lacking across the board – and that we need to have more students engaged and involved in governing bodies such as our University Council to avoid decisions made with little or no consultation. One such example, they said, is the University’s restructure, which has been the centre of controversy over the last year and has been described by candidate Ash Barnham as “disastrous for students.”
Candidate for Student Representative on University Council
Ash grew up on the Far North Coast before moving to Newcastle to study at UON. Like many UON students, Ash supports himself by working two jobs in retail. He attributes his desire to see a better world to his family’s trauma, fleeing Poland in the wake of World War II. Ash was diagnosed with a brain tumour at age 15, which is an ongoing medical condition he needs to manage for the rest of his life.
Ash said he decided to run for University Council because he felt left behind by the University’s policies on mandatory attendance, which disproportionally affects first year students, later-year students in degrees such as law and students like himself with chronic health issues.
“I felt let down by the University and the current representatives,” Ash told us, “I was sick of complaining to [my] mates and felt it was time to stand up and fix the University.”
Ash has also identified issues with parking availability, learning flexibility, and the University restructure as key contributors to his candidacy. He said if elected, those would be the defining issues he would address over the course of his term.
“I can’t stand the thought of students next year, and the year after that, having to deal with all the same bad policies.”
Ash told Yak he believes most students feel the University restructure was not in the University’s best interests. “They only recently cut 530 courses when they merged the five faculties into three colleges. Now they want to cut more courses and lay off more staff.”
Asked why he thought he was the best person for the job, Ash cited his personal experience.
“I know what it’s like when the university makes policies that affect students negatively, and I’m passionate about fixing those issues.”
Incumbent Student Representative on the University Council
Lucas is a third Year Arts/Law student and Novocastrian. He works on campus as part of the ASKUON team in customer service. Lucas is involved in multiple clubs on campus and told Yak that something he enjoys most is running the free sausage sizzle events through his adjourning role on the UNSA SRC.
Lucas is running for re-election to ensure that he, as the current student representative, maintains the institutional experience which ensures quality representation for the students of the university.
“The most important thing for student representation on council is the continuity of student experience, particularly if you’re able to have quality representation.”
Lucas said that a lack of consultation with students and a lack of student representation was the biggest issue at the university right now.
“I think it would be a mistake to say that there is a specific decision that has come from council or from university management that’s causing all the trouble.”
Lucas said that regrettably, students are not being consulted before decisions are made.
“It’s a policy where people are asking for forgiveness, not asking for permission.”
Lucas’ solution to this ‘policy of no consultation’ is more student representation. He emphasised one representative for 37,000 students is not enough.
Lucas clarified that the University’s restructure was talked about prior to his term but summarised his feeling towards the changes as operationally effective, however he doesn’t believe the trade-off is acceptable.
“Anything that leads to a degradation in student services or in student experience isn’t a good decision.”
Lucas told Yak that he believes student consultation should’ve been more extensive before the decision was taken and the University of Newcastle Students’ Association could have been more hands-on in response to the announced changes.
“[UNSA] played the role of facilitating for students to give feedback, more so than providing feedback themselves.”
“In terms of the clubs restructure I think we saw that UNSA was in favour of the clubs moving across, but I think they provided the ability for students to provide feedback across to the university.”
Lucas spoke to his experience when we asked him why he should be re-elected for a second term.
“I have the institutional knowledge and the experience on the council to deliver. All the policies I have, they’re all achievable policies that can be done.”
Candidate for Academic Senate
Tanisha is a proud Gamilaraay/Kamilaroi woman who was born in Tamworth and has since moved to the Central Coast. Tanisha has worked full time as a manager in hospitality since she moved out of home at the age of 17. She has competed in Australian Country Championships for her sporting abilities and said as the oldest of nine siblings, she knows how to be a leader.
Tanisha had a rough start in life, and said she had to “grow up quite young.” Tanisha experienced abuse during her childhood, which she described as a formative experience that fuelled her desires for achievement and independence.
“Moving out [gave me] a sense of independence and allowed me to really become my own person. I was able to start focusing on myself and the life I really wanted to achieve.”
Tanisha has put herself forward to become an Academic Senate representative because she believes that Students deserve a voice aligned with their own.
“There are issues that need to be brought to light, as well as issues that need to be fought.”
Tanisha identifies learning with COVID-19 as the biggest issue our university faces right now, as well as student stress in dealing with the ongoing pandemic.
“It can be really difficult to find the motivation to attend class and put in the effort to get good grades,” she told Yak. “[In addition, we] rely on human connection, so dealing with lockdown takes a toll on people mentally. I want everyone to know that you’re not alone, and your feelings are valid.”
In regard to the University restructure, she took aim at the perceived lack of ethical awareness by the University when they made the decision.
“I get that a goal of business is profit maximisation, I really do, but seriously, shouldn’t ethics start to play a role in the dealings of a business?”
“[The cuts] certainly could’ve been less brutal,” she said.
Tanisha criticised the approach of the university’s cost-saving measures, pointing to instances where the University removed jobs, then recreated substantially similar jobs under less remuneration.
“[The employees] aren’t even guaranteed the new jobs.”
She said during a pandemic was the wrong time to be making job cuts, and also criticised the University’s move to remove over 500 course offerings as another cost-saving measure.
“I feel as though they have exploited this disaster for all its worth, instead of showing due consideration for the difficulties that individuals are facing,” said Tanisha.
Tanisha described herself as a natural leader – driven, experienced and able to lead, providing solutions to new and existing problems.
“I am passionate about standing up for the things that you believe in and will consistently put in a high level of effort to see these things through.”
Candidate for Academic Senate
Dylan is a third year Business/Commerce student who has lived in the Hunter all of his life. He is the first in his family to attend university, which he says provided challenges of its own. He has been a member of multiple advisory bodies outside of uni – he is currently serving as the chair of Lake Macquarie Youth Council, serves on the Youth Committee for the Hunter, and has just completed his term on the New South Wales Youth Advisory Council.
“I know what it takes to advocate for change and I’m quite experienced in representing people and ensuring people have their voices heard,” said Dylan.
After three years at the University of Newcastle, Dylan said it was the recent university restructure which has pushed him to run and that it has demonstrated to him how important it is to be a part of the decision-making process.
“Some change is inevitable – I’m not doubting that for a moment, but I think it’s gone too far.”
Dylan recounted his experience with the restructuring that has occurred over the last two years; the chopping and changing of courses, majors being changed or removed, and people being forced to reassess their way through uni as degrees and courses were decimated.
He says that the restructure has demonstrated the importance of having students at the table.
“The bigger problem is that there is a lack of student representatives across the uni.” He explained. “For instance, on the Academic Senate there’s over 40 staff members, but there is just 4 student representatives.”
Dylan spoke with great optimism about his belief that students would be willing and able to step into governance roles if they were available, telling Yak that he had worked with countless young people from across the region who were dedicated, talented and wanted to serve their community in these kinds of roles.
Dylan picked the University restructure and the gutting of courses as his top issues. Ideally, he wants to see more courses on offer to maximise flexibility and availability for staff and students. He also noted the opportunity presented by the switch to online learning, where students could be extended the opportunity to learn online as well as face-to-face.
Dylan said the mandatory attendance measures introduced by the University neglected to look at why students were unable to attend classes.
“The best time to abolish mandatory attendance would’ve been shortly after they started it, but the second-best time is now,” he said.
Dylan said he was the best person for the job thanks to his experience and advocacy skills. He says he knows what it takes to represent people – to get their opinion on things and to work constructively.
“I’ve served on local, regional and statewide committees to advocate on behalf of other people,” He said “It’s with that experience that I know I’d be able to do the job quite well.”
Voting commences on Monday 6 September. All students will be sent an email with instructions on how to vote, and voting is open until 5:00pm Friday 17 September 2021.
Historically, there has been a low turnout at student elections at the University of Newcastle, but with so many notable issues and energised candidates, 2021 may see the highest turnout in years.
Article by Callum Pull, Yak Designer/Staff Writer in collaboration with Leanne Elliott, Managing Editor/Staff Writer
Feature image by Leanne Elliott.