Let’s Get Political: A Guide to Student Governance at UON

Throughout the year, you might see posters around campus made by students campaigning to be elected to various groups across the University, groups that many students might not know a lot about. The University Council, the Faculty Boards, and the Academic Senate are just a few. Who make up these governing bodies? What do they do? Is the Academic Senate anything like the Senate from Star Wars and do I have to worry about Academic Sith taking over the uni? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean the work done and decisions made by these groups are any less important and don’t have a significant impact on our time at UON.

So what governing bodies are there at UON? To start at the very top, there’s the University Council. The University Council is the peak governing body at UON and has some part to play in policies that affect every part of university life. The Council is responsible for all of the University’s policies and strategy as well as determining the direction the University is going in. Many of the other governing bodies around on campus report to the University Council or work with them.

The University Council has sixteen members. They include the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor as well as other staff members. Importantly for us, there’s also a student member of the University Council, elected to the position by other students. This year’s student representative on the University Council is Bhavi Ravindran, a final year medical student who took on the role to be a strong voice for students.

“I got involved to advocate and improve the student experience,” he said. “UON hosts students from all over the world and from all different backgrounds so it is absolutely important that the university provides a positive experience for all of our students.”

Bhavi’s role on the Council is to give a voice for students in the decision-making process and provide insight into how students might be impacted by new policies and proposals.

“I’ve played a key role in bringing a student perspective to all decisions made by Council in all areas of university decisions,” he said, pointing to some of the major discussions he has been a part of during his tenure. “These have included decisions related to new buildings (such as Honeysuckle), university policies, selecting the new Vice-Chancellor, safety on campus, mental health, and the push for international expansion.”

Beyond the University Council, there are several other governance and decision-making bodies on campus, one of which is the Academic Senate. The Academic Senate advises the University Council on, as you might have guessed, academic matters at the University. It also has a few powers of its own such as determining academic policy as well as introducing new degrees and courses and changing or removing others. The Senate has four students elected to it at any point. One must be an undergraduate student from Callaghan and one is a non-Callaghan undergraduate student while the other two are postgraduate students; one coursework student and one higher degree by research student.

Outside of the hierarchy of the University, there are even more students looking to represent you and your concerns while at uni. The Newcastle University Students Association (NUSA) and the Newcastle University Postgraduate Students’ Association (NUPSA) are two student unions on campus. Both seek to look out for the best interests of students and advocate on their behalf to the University, with NUPSA having a particular focus on postgraduate students. They both also offer plenty of support and services to students such as running events, running clubs and societies as well as providing workshops and freebies for students. Positions at NUSA and NUPSA are also appointed through voting and by-elections for NUSA are currently underway.

The election process for the various governance bodies on campus is fairly simple but can be different depending on the body involved. NUSA elections are undertaken through a physical ballot system and you’ll see polling places around the uni when elections take place. Elections for the University Council and the Academic Senate generally take place online through the myUON portal and you’ll receive an email to notify you when an election is on.

Understanding how the election processes work and engaging with the decision-making bodies at the University is important.

“The Council and other governing bodies make really important decisions for the University which has the potential to affect every student and their education,” Bhavi said. “It’s really important to understand what the decisions are and what they mean for you, whether that’s a new policy, a new building or more investment in research.”

If you are interested in the decisions being made about our uni, Bhavi recommends watching out for these elections, getting involved in your degree’s society, or even talking to your teachers if you have concerns about how your degree is run. You can also contact your representatives, like Bhavi on the University Council or the students at NUSA and NUPSA, and make sure that they know what important to you and what you’d like to see advocated for on campus.

The University is a big place and when you’re concerned with how it’s run or what’s direction the uni is going in, it can sometimes feel like you’re too small to have any real say in the matter. There are ways that you can make your voice heard and make a difference while you’re at uni and plenty of people who can help you do that.