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SUPRA elects first all-international student executive

Weihong Liang will serve as this year's president.

USyd’s postgrad student union has for the first time elected an executive made up entirely of international students. SUPRA’s new executive, which was voted in yesterday, will serve until June 2019 and is headed by President Weihong Liang.

Liang will be joined by Vice-Presidents Jinghan Feng and Junke Li, Education Officers Domi Dana Johnson and Minran Liu, Secretaries Claire Wang and Azhar Saeed, Treasurer Shuai Wang, and Director of Student Publications Yiqi Wu.

The Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association represents 26,174 postgraduate students, who can access its caseworker services and vote in its annual council elections. Out of its 33 members, this council in turn elects an executive, who are tasked with carrying out the organisation’s day-to-day functions.

Yesterday’s special council meeting, Supraelects, was uneventful compared to its namesake, the SRC’s undergraduate Repselect.  Only the presidency and the education role were contested. Nicholas Avery and Liang both nominated for the former position, which Liang took with 22 votes to Avery’s nine. Johnson and Liu, running as a joint ticket, squared off with Kim Yoo for the education portfolio, winning with 22 votes to Yoo’s nine.

The total voting pool was down from 33 to 32 councillors, due to the absence of Cathy Eatock, SUPRA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer.

The executive result continues the success achieved by international students at SUPRA’s council elections, which were held campus-wide earlier this year. Four tickets led by Chinese international students dominated that race, securing 15 council seats and high voter support. Liang himself received 147 votes—more than three times the 46 needed to win a seat.

Seven of the nine officers elected yesterday came from one or other of these four tickets: Liang and Liu are members of Weihong for International; Feng and Shuai Wang are members of Jinghan for Change; Junke Li is a member of Jarkz; and Claire Wang and Yiqiu Wu are members of Team for Continuous Improvement.

The remaining two officers, Johnson and Saeed, are associated with ‘Impact’, a centrist group that controlled the council and presidency in 2017-18 but dropped to just five seats in this year’s council elections.

Yesterday’s elections were also a blow to left-wing grouping Postgrad Action, who have traditionally been successful within SUPRA. Postgrad Action and its sister ticket, Postgrad Health, won six seats at April’s council elections, but failed to take any positions in yesterday’s executive race. Avery, who contested the presidency, ran on Postgrad Action.

Under incoming President Liang, SUPRA looks set to focus on engagement and outreach. Liang told Honi he wants the organisation to “meet all postgraduate students’ needs”. Key policy proposals include more publicity, with the aim of signing up 80 per cent of postgraduate students as SUPRA members. Liang also wants to improve the “studying experiences” of coursework masters students in the Business School, improve academic and support services for higher degree research students, and offer SUPRA’s legal and casework services in languages other than English.

On the broader direction of the organisation, Liang sees a role for both conciliation with the university, as well as more traditional stupol activism. “Protest and consulting are tools in our tool box,” he said. Nonetheless, he stressed working with administration: “I will try to continue to make good relations with the Uni if they want to give more resources to help us achieve our policies.”

Outgoing Presidents Mariam Mohammed and Kiriti Mortha caused controversy over their relations with university admin:  earlier this year, they revealed that they had asked the University Senate to intervene directly in SUPRA’s affairs. If the Senate agrees to this request, it can order an investigation and even overhaul the organisation’s structure. Mohammed and Mortha claim such a restructure is necessary to combat racism and toxicity within SUPRA. The Senate’s decision is still pending.

When asked whether he would press ahead with restructure attempts, Liang said “I will focus on the  [aforementioned] policies … first.”

Nicholas Avery was contacted for comment, but could not be reached before this article’s deadline.