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SUPRA Election: Chinese international students win for second consecutive year

Electoral victor, Infinity, won a clear majority with 21 seats

Ballot box clip art next to SUPRA logo

A dominant Chinese international student-led ticket will maintain control of the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) after collecting a majority of council seats in last month’s general election and ahead of SUPRAelect this week.

SUPRA’s governance and direction lies with a 33-strong council, consisting of 27 elected councillors, including guaranteed representation for students on satellite campuses, and six autonomously elected equity officers who hold identity-based portfolios. Those councillors vote in a core executive drawn from the council — including paid office-bearers like the President and Education Officer — who oversee the organisation’s day-to-day management.

2019’s election was only contested by two main groupings — down from the plurality of four last year — and saw lower overall engagement with limited campaigning over Facebook and only 39 candidates vying for 27 positions, compared to 66 in 2018.

Less than 1200 postgraduates voted, slightly lower than last year’s record of 1449, but far exceeding 2016’s 198 votes.

Unlike 2018, left-wing team Postgrad Action and broad centrists Impact were noticeably absent, leaving the majority of seats picked up by a consolidated Chinese international student grouping, Infinity, which included outgoing SUPRA President Weihong Liang.

The absence of Postgrad Action — historically responsible for directing SUPRA funds to NTEU staff strikes and calling out Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence’s pay-rises — has seen SUPRA move away from historically activist stances.

Electoral victor, Infinity, which boasts international students as well as domestic students, won a clear majority with 21 seats, giving it first choice over the make-up of the 2019-20 SUPRA Executive. 2018-19 SUPRA president Weihong Liang told Honi he is interested in a second term but will resign the position in July if he receives a job offer in China.

Of the remaining 12 positions, four seats went Student Voice, a group with international student links, and one went to independent Sayan Mitra. All six equity officer positions went to independents. A remaining general councillor position remains vacant. During Liang’s term, SUPRA resolved a grading error affecting more than 15 students in ACCT6007 and helped settle more than 400 academic appeals in BUSS6002. As of this month, SUPRA expended $80,000 to transition to an independent SUPRA-based legal service, reducing its reliance on services from Redfern Legal Centre, which lacked multilingual support. The association has also seen increased engagement with postgraduate students on WeChat, according to the annual report, tabled at this month’s annual general meeting.

Three councillors of the 2018-19 council were re-elected under Infinity branding, despite running different tickets last year. President Weihong Liang (Weihong for international), co-Education Officer Domi Dana Johnson (Impact) and Zirui Li (Jarkz) were returned to Council.

The results of SUPRA’s election continues an upsurge of international students in student politics campus-wide. Just this month, three international students were elected to the University of Sydney Union (USU) Board in a historical first, upsetting the grip of long-established factions like Student Unity on the USU Board.

SUPRA represents more than 29,000 postgraduate students enrolled at the University of Sydney and received $1,865,595 from the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) allocation pool in 2018.

SUPRAelect— the less heated counterpart to the SRC’s infamous RepsElect — will see the 2019-20 executive voted in this Friday, 31 May.

The new council term commences from 1 July.