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June 4, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Sounding Out the Student Voice: Part Three

With the Student Forum on its last legs, an upcoming review of student representation will hopefully give a bit of direction to the student voice which has been lost amongst student and university politics. University Council Student Representative, David Alsop, sheds some light on the upcoming review from inside the ivory tower and explains how this ‘consultation’ will be different.

If you’ve been reading the articles in Salient these past few weeks, you should be up to date with the Student Forum and the various issues that it’s had. I won’t go into detail repeating all of the problems with the Forum, but, suffice to say, it was clear from early on that things weren’t going smoothly. Fortunately, previous student representatives had voiced their concerns to the University Council, which had previously agreed to a review, and as a result the review was moved forward. And here we are today. After a long, mucky run the entire gamut of student representation and consultation is up for review. This review will first look to identify the existing problems with representation and consultation, before working to find a solution that addresses these and builds a model that is future-proof.

This matters. Student representation and consultation, while innocuous and boring-sounding, is a pretty big deal. When it is effective, it enables students to have a substantial impact on the operations of this University. When it isn’t, students have decisions imposed on them and the whole University community suffers as a result. Therefore, it is in everyone’s best interest to strengthen student representation and consultation, to help build a community at Victoria that students feel a part of and valued in.

It’s important to highlight the difference between representation and consultation, so everyone is on the same page. Now, I’m a gist person, not a technical details person. So if you’re an English Language major and I grossly oversimplify this issue, I am sorry, and please don’t send me hate mail. I’ve already witnessed one stoush over grammar this week. Anyway. Representation is when someone is acting on behalf of, or in the interests of, others. For instance, I represent all students on the Council. It’s impossible for me to share the views of all students, as I am one and y’all are many, but through my experience as a student and my judgment, I act to ensure that students aren’t ignored at the highest level of decision-making. Consultation is when you seek the opinions and views of a group of people. Salient might ask students whether they believe VUWSA should get a cat, to which the correct answer is yes, unless a red panda is on offer, in which case VUWSA should get a red panda. The review is consulting students right now as well, and there is still time to have your say for the first stage of this review – if you have any thoughts or problems with the status quo of Student Representation, you can email me at by Thursday 6 June. Your feedback will then form part of the discussions that the working group has.

So, who is making these decisions? Well, there are two groups – the Student Working Group and the Staff Working Group. These two groups are operating independently to do the legwork of the review – discussing the problems and trying to find solutions from the perspective of students and staff respectively. The Oversight Group is a chance for the two working groups to meet up and work in good faith to find solutions that work for everyone. There are two sides to this relationship, and as we saw with the Forum, this relationship doesn’t work if one side doesn’t buy into it. Different people and different groups will invariably have different views as to how representation and consultation should work. The working group will try to work towards a consensus position in finding a solution to the issues we currently have. However, if there are significant and irreconcilable differences in opinion, we’ll make sure students can hear about these and are able to judge for themselves what they feel is the best response.

How do I fit into all of this? As your University Council representative elected at large, I act alongside yet outside of existing representative groups. My duty is to act in the best interest of all students, rather than a particular group. Thus, while it isn’t directly related to my work on the Council, I am chairing the Student Working Group and co-chairing the Oversight Group as I am acting in the interests of all students, and don’t need to worry about looking after the interests of any specific group. It means that I can hopefully help to bridge the gap where groups have differences of opinion.

Where does this all lead to? Well, at some point, the Council will be considering this issue. Unfortunately, the exact date this will occur is currently in flux – but it’s a case of sooner rather than later. As such, I can’t really promise much about when this will all come to a close, and when and how students can further feed into this review. We’ll keep you posted, though. In the meantime, there are still some ongoing issues. As reported last week, the fact that the Student Forum failed to elect a chair has left me on my lonesome as the only Student Representative on the University Council. This is deeply concerning. Hopefully, the next time you read Salient, some solution will have been found—there are some big dates ahead where having a second student voice and vote on the Council is tantamount, such as fee-setting and the selection of a new Vice-Chancellor. So keep an eye on this space.

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