Each year, one aspirational student is elected to the University of Auckland’s governing council. Craccum investigates what it’s like to be one of UoA’s most influential student voices.
Nominations for the 2022 University Council student representative recently closed on July 25. The council is the University’s highest decision-making body, chaired by the Chancellor. The Vice-Chancellor, the University’s chief academic and administrative officer, elected staff, alumnus and external appointees also sit on the council.
According to the University,electing a student representative “brings a student voice to the University’s decision making. Craccum sat down with Johnnie Wang, the 2021 representative, to discuss his experience sitting with the University’s big dogs.
The Accounting doctoral student says he has studied at UoA for eight years. While he may be older than many students, Wang argues his time spent as a student means he really understands what we go through. He signed up for the role because he saw problems with the student experience and wanted to create positive change. “If I could sum it up in two words, it would be dissatisfaction and love. Only when you love something, do you want to improve it.”
Wang’s goal has been to represent students’ best interests. “I wanted to ensure a smart, strong, caring, and impartial voice for students.” Wang regularly communicates and negotiates with senior members of the University. “My role is to promote ideas proposed by student bodies and make sure they can happen.” A typical week for the student rep involves meeting with AUSA and several different student bodies to receive their feedback.
Issues Wang says he helped students advocate for includes lengthy Ask Auckland queues and the centralisation of student services. “Students had to wait for a very long time to get the help they needed.” During his tenure, the University also established the hardship fund, and made the University’s website available in Te Reo Māori. Wang is proud to be the first international student representative and says he advocated for international and offshore students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 rep told Craccum he is pleased with what the council has achieved. “We are a very effective, efficient and diverse team.” When asked if members see students as a priority, he claims that they do. “The University does not choose to ignore us. But I often feel they don’t understand or know the importance of some things to us. My job is to communicate these problems to them from a student’s perspective.”
Wang sees his fellow council members as having a parental relationship with students. “It’s like our parents. Sometimes they express their love in their own way, but we don’t understand it.” Wang admires the council members, but argues he is just as valuable to the team. “They are definitely the most talented people in this country, apart from me. They carry a lot of experience and knowledge.”
A challenge Wang faced was appealing for things that are inconsistent with what he personally believes. “Everyone wants reduced tuition fees and exam-free courses. But the University needs revenue to grow and to maintain its reputation. But that’s the voice of the people you are representing and they want to be heard, so it was difficult to deal with that.”
Wang revealed what he enjoys most about being student rep is using the knowledge he gained from his study to pay back and contribute to the University. When asked if he considers himself to be an overachiever, Wang says he is just a normal student. “I’m a person who enjoys studying, doing research, and obtaining new knowledge every day. But I drink with students, I party with students, and sometimes I get distracted from study.”
But Wang says he takes his position seriously. “It’s a very time-consuming job. I received over 3000 comments and more than 500 emails from students in a year. There’s hundreds of pages of paperwork I have to read.” But Wang knows what he signed up for. “If you want to be the student rep on the university council, it’s your job. Students put their trust in you and voted for you to represent them, and the more students you talk to the better you can do that.”
Voting for the new student rep opens on the 23rd of August and closes on the 27th of August.