Just a week before Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) held their annual Council elections on April 26 and 27, the out-going co-presidents Mariam Mohammed and Kiriti Mortha called on Sydney University management to investigate the "governance structure" of SUPRA, alleging there was a "toxic" culture on the council.
Speaking to Honi Soit, Sydney University’s student newspaper, about the potential investigation and restructure, Nic Avery, then a candidate for Postgrad Action and a former vice-president of SUPRA said: “Nothing of this sort has been discussed on council. This shows a distinct lack of consultation and transparency on [Mohammed and Mortha's] part.”
According to an April 19 post on Sydney University student blog Pulp, an investigation into SUPRA's governance structures could be carried out by "...either an internal auditor of the university or a qualified external expert. Once completed, the investigator will report their findings and recommendations to the Vice-Chancellor, who in turn will take actions to see those recommendations implemented."
Such an investigation would threaten the independence of SUPRA and possibly its very existence by taking decisions about its structure out of the hands of its members and putting it into the hands of university management.
“The postgraduate student body is more than capable of directing the organisation," Avery told Honi Soit. "Any changes to the SUPRA constitution must be made by SUPRA members at a General Meeting.”
Honi Soit quoted Mortha as saying: “The decision to investigate SUPRA currently rests with the Vice Chancellor, before being escalated to the Senate,”. The next Senate meeting is scheduled for May 16.
Four main tickets ran in the elections with a record number of candidates standing and students voting. Sixty-six candidates ran in the main ballot, competing for 27 council seats and 1449 students voted — a 219% increase from last year and a 632% increase from 2016.
Postgrad Action (PGA), a progressive, pro-staff ticket that campaigned around fighting rape culture on campus and for international student concession cards, won six seats. HDReform, which advocated for better learning spaces, won three seats. Impact, the ticket supported by outgoing co-presidents Mohammed and Mortha, won three seats.
The new contender was a fourth group led by Chinese international students, but made up of both domestic and international students. Within this cohort, Weihong for International won six seats, the Team for Continuous Development four seats, Jarkz won three seats and Jinghan for Change won two.
There are an additional six positions on council, which are equity officers covering disability, satellite campus, queer, women’s, international student and Aboriginal office-bearer positions. Impact-aligned students won the satellite campus and international student positions while the women’s, disability, and queer office positions were won by independents.
Student unions, guilds, representative councils, and student associations are an important collective space for students to organise against attacks on education, for student rights and around social and environmental campaigns. Over the past 30 years Sydney University's SRC has also been instrumental in supporting progressive campaigns, such as the 1978 rainbow warriors who led Mardi Gras as well as refugee advocates and Aboriginal activists.
Student organisations assist students and campaign for their rights in an ever hardening commodifying environment. SUPRA, for example, represents more than 26,000 postgraduate students and helps postgraduate students every year with housing issues, appeals over supervisor assessment decisions and any issue regarding their higher degree by research course. There has been a 20% increase in cases in the past five months, as housing affordability and conditions on campus become more cutthroat.
Geena George, an international student and newly elected PGA councillor said: "There are many structural inequalities prevailing on campus. I have faced discrimination and power inequities myself and had support from SUPRA to find housing.
"With the support of SUPRA I want to establish a student society, to create a community around the experience of marginalised groups of students. SUPRA needs to keep campaigning on winning international student concession cards, and other battles."
Avery, who was re-elected for a new term, said: "It is a relief to have a group of new councillors leading SUPRA. It’s such an important organisation with staff doing tireless work. The last leadership was too pro-management — prioritising social events over campaigns ... PGA councillors pledge to campaign against management’s anti-staff, anti-education policies.”