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Q&A with Amy Kilpatrick

A Student Representative Council (SRC) is an important organisation for any university, as the representatives seek to give voice to the major concerns raised by a diverse range of students. The University of Canberra (UC) has recently changed its SRC structure to make it more accessible to students and provide a clearer representation of their issues. Benjamin James spoke with UC’s legal counsel Amy Kilpatrick about what these changes were and why they were made.
Q: What is the SRC and what are its goals?
A: The Student Representative Council is the newly created body for students to have a representative voice among the university. Now what are its goals? Whatever the students who are elected to it choose to have as their goals in any year.
The intention is to set up some structures around that, some administrative support structures, including financial support…and have a full time secretariat officer dedicated to them to help them organise meetings, help them book appointments, help them manage the stipends.
Q: What were the changes that were made to the SRC?
A: It’s a very different model. We looked a great deal at other universities and the way in which their student representative bodies are structured. Many suffered from the same issues that UC SA suffered, which was a lack of real administrative support, a lack of financial support and really not enough money or structure around them to support them to achieve their goals. So you’d have a constant turnover of students.

SRC campaign poster. Image Credit: Natalie Lutan

So what we wanted to do was set up a structure that was more supportive of them so they could achieve whatever goals they want for themselves. But I think probably the major change is that it’s no longer an incorporated association in and of itself, it’s not a legal entity that the UC SA was. What it is, is a body that exists within the student success area within the university, and supported with paid staff for its administration.
We were very influenced by the success of that model at Swinburne, where the students…nominate themselves from a faculty or an educational centre, or existing leadership roles.
We’re hoping that the students would be able to more easily access the students that they want to represent and they would be more closely connected in that way and their ability to represent issues or topics would be much more rounded.
In the past, the students have got together in a group…and those various officers or functions weren’t aligned with the academic excellence, or the social clubs or student life as it is so I think they struggle…to represent the varied voices within the university.
Q: Do you think you could sum up why those changes were made?
A: We think the students…who’ve been elected as student leaders, should be able to represent students on all of the diverse issues that our students have and that they should be able to stand up on any of the issues that are important for the diversity and harmony of our student community, and help to build that student community and be able to talk in a dignified and respectful way about all the issues that are important to the students.
It basically will spread the responsibility for building the community across the entire group and closely connect people to the academic centres. So it’s more like a representative democracy model.
So I’m really excited to see what the students make of it, they seem an extremely enthusiastic bunch and I’m thrilled that so many were willing to put their hands up.
Q: Is that representative structure the reason that you believe students will engage with it more than previously?
A: What I’m hoping it does is empower the student leaders themselves to get engaged at their faculty level and just have them more closely connected to those academic centres of excellence, that they feel supported by their faculty, or the Ngunnawal Centre, or the college.
And don’t forget that four other students come from the existing roles within the academic board and the university council. What the model is trying to achieve is bringing those existing leadership roles down into the SRC so that there’s a dialog between the SRC and the council itself of the university and the academic board.
So you’re going to end up with a direct line to power, so to speak, as opposed to sitting on the sidelines – you have people who are in both places and that means you have access to information and a voice that the SRC hasn’t had before so it’s really exciting.
Q: What challenges do you envisage the new model facing?
A: The main challenges are always getting people excited about something that you’re wanting to do and I think for the student leaders, that will be the biggest issue for them. They’ll be excited and they’ll be motivated and I’m hoping that will be contagious for the other students.
But they have to know what people are interested in, they have to know what their fellow students’ concerns are and their cares are and then they have to be able to articulate that.
So those are the biggest challenges – understanding what the students are really concerned about and then being able to get people enthusiastic to do something about it.
It can’t just be these 11 or 12 people, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about those people helping to give voice to the concerns of the 13,000 students we have here.
So I wish them all the best, I think it’s a very exciting time.

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