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Amplifying student voices through SRC elections

The Higher Education Act prescribes that public higher education institutions must establish, among other structures, a students’ representative council (SRC) whose purpose is to represent students’ needs in structures of the universities, including in the highest decision-making body, the Council. Unisa has started the constitutional process of electing a new SRC, scheduled to take place between 11 and 18 February 2021.

Dr Olwethu Sipuka, Dean of Students at Unisa, considers student leaders as important partners in service delivery improvement at the university. “It is important for Unisa students to participate in the elections to ensure that their concerns do not end only on popular social media platforms, but are debated and addressed by the university structures. The participation is about amplifying your voice beyond challenges,” he says.

Dr Olwethu Sipuka, Dean of Students at Unisa

Part of Sipuka’s vision, with specific reference to student representation and giving a voice to the students, is to have student leadership that raises the challenges faced by the students to the management of the university. He acknowledges that the only way for the university to remain relevant and trusted by its key stakeholders, the students, is to improve its service delivery model.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the elections were postponed from 2020 to 2021. For that reason, the 2020 voters’ roll will be used and first-time 2021 students will not be eligible to vote. Electronic platforms will be largely used, and the 30 gigabytes of data that Unisa provides to its students on a monthly basis will assist them to participate using their smart phones.

To promote the principles of good governance and free and fair elections, the process leading to appointing a governing student structure includes the following:

  • Consultation between the university management and the governing SRC on the proposed date of elections.
  • A supply chain process of appointing a service provider to provide a platform for free and fair elections, and the testing of the platform to confirm if it meets the standard. Over the years, Unisa as an open, distance and e-learning (ODeL) institution, has employed a bi-lateral election process: online voting and physical voting at campuses. Participation has proved to be higher online.
  • The platform training of the Independent Electoral Tribunal (IET), which deals with electoral disputes that may arise.
  • The extraction of the 2020 voters’ roll and registration of student structures by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and external auditors.
  • The nominations of student structures that want to participate in the elections, which are done to the IEC.
  • The verification of nominations as each must be accompanied by at least 100 signatures of students that appear on the voters’ roll.
  • Confirmation of the ballot of the participating structures.
  • Confirmation of the Liaison Committee which compose of one member from each participating structure.
  • The campaigning and publication of manifestos of the participating structures. Due to COVID-19 regulations, they will be published online by 03 February 2021.
  • The actual voting process, which will take place between 11 and 18 February 2021 until 23:59.
  • The counting and reconciliation of votes, which will take place on 19 February 2021.
  • The auditing and verification of results on 22 and 23 February where external auditors will audit the process and provide a certification if satisfied.
  • The certificate will be given to the IEC, which will announce the elections results and confirm their freeness and fairness on 24 February 2021.
  • If there are any disputes, they will be raised with the IET, which would investigate the matter and make a decision or determination.
  • If there are no disputes or the IET makes the determination that the elections were free and fair, the inauguration of the regional SRCs will take place from 02 March 2021.
  • The National Student Congress will take place on 14 March 2021 where all regional SRC structures will converge to elect the national SRC.
  • By 17 March 2021, the national SRC’s names will have been submitted to the management committee of the university, all the way up to the council, who will decide on the inauguration date.

“The university looks forward to having the new SRC structure by end of March 2021,” concludes Sipuka. “It will be a permanent structure to govern for the next two years. I urge all university students to exercise their democratic rights within the university, by voting for a student structure that they believe will represent their needs, aspirations and views”.

*By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2021/01/26