“I’m always here”
Interview by Sandra Buol
It was mid-June when the SUPRA councillors elected their new executive in what was a joint effort of the ‘Chinese tickets’ and Impact. Weihong Liang, despite being new on the council and relatively unknown to the SUPRA community, took the majority of the votes and was elected President. He profited from a larger engagement of – mostly Chinese – international students with the organisation and Impact’s aim to leave no room for the far-left councillors from Postgrad Action and Postgrad Action for Health.
In the meantime, Weihong Liang has settled into his position. Time for a chat.
This interview has been edited for readability purposes.
Pulp: First of all, tell me a little bit about you.
Weihong: I’m currently studying a Master of Arts by research on the topic of democracy and education. This is my first semester. Last December I graduated with a Master of International Relations from this university. I did my undergraduate degree in China and worked as a voluntary teacher before coming to Australia at the end of 2015. I now spend most of my time here at the SUPRA offices, so if anyone needs to see me, I’m always here. I work here, I study here, I meet friends here.
Pulp: You’ve been elected SUPRA President without serving on the council before, so most people involved with the organisation or interested in SUPRA’s doings don’t know yet what you stand for and what your aims are as President.
Weihong: First of all, I don’t think I’m doing student politics here. I think SUPRA is more of a student services provider. Because of the nature of how councillors get elected, it looks like politics, but the job we do is student services. I see SUPRA basically as a middle part between the university and the students. I study politics, and I know that politics is something else. There is limited power here in what we’re able to do.
So – what I stand for: I want to be the person who has the voice of the postgraduate students at this university. I want to help them being heard – at the university, or anywhere they want to give their voice. Here’s an example of this: More than 60 students out of 300 who took ACCT6007 (Business School) failed the unit. How can anyone say that’s the students’ fault? If a few students fail, then it’s probably because they haven’t worked hard enough. But if it’s more than 60 people, then there seems to be an issue with the way the unit is taught. I met with students who are affected by this and listened to their concerns and then wrote a letter to the university with the assistance of one of our caseworkers, outlining those concerns and demanding some clarifications around the marking process.
I want people to know that if they call me or email me or come to see me, I will listen to their concerns.
Pulp: SUPRA’s last term was marked by internal conflicts – in-between fractions of the council, but also between councillors and staff. How will you go about to make SUPRA less about those conflicts and more about student needs?
Weihong: I’ve heard about the disputes between some councillors and some members of the staff. We have 12 full-time staff members and most of them work really hard – I see them every day doing their job, especially the case workers. I would argue that the efficiency of some staff members could be increased – but maybe that’s because I’m from China, I’m used to things going very fast (laughs). I understand that sometimes the pace is slower in Australia. I don’t think any of our staff are interested in their personal benefits only and I’m confident that future conflicts can be managed if we all stick to the work agreements.
The relations between councillors are really good this year. I know there were conflicts on the last council, but so far there hasn’t been any of this, so I don’t worry about it. I worry more that this year the experience on the council is limited because there are so many new people. All new councillors should learn how to do their job very fast. The good thing is that they come here and learn and work on things. And they put a lot of effort in. On O-Day we always had at least 15 councillors and volunteers at the stall and thanks to their efforts 200 postgrad students signed up on Facebook and 800 on our newly established WeChat platform.
Pulp: What are some of the main issues SUPRA will face this term?
Weihong: I worry about our funding – it hasn’t increased as much as we expected. As a consequence, our finances are very tight. It will be hard to plan activities or pay for staff training and ultimately, we’ll need more support from the university and from the USU, for example when it comes to booking a venue – though I know that it will be very hard to get that. For now we decided to cut costs – last week’s event for example was held at the Footbridge Theatre instead at the Courtyard Restaurant.
We want more students go get involved, to attend the council meetings or to volunteer with us at events. We have also started the process of creating an internship position for a postgraduate law student to assist our solicitors with writings or translations. This year it will be unpaid, but maybe next year we will be able to offer a paid position.
As President, I want to make sure that more students can use SUPRA as a platform and profit from the resources that we have.