How can UMSU International improve future elections?

18 August 2021

When the results of the University of Melbourne Student Union International’s (UMSU INTL)  annual general elections popped up on my Facebook news feed, as an international student, I was excited to see who would be representing our community in the following year. However, when I saw how few votes had been cast in the election, I was shocked. Only 1,140, or just over one per cent, had made their choice out of more than 20,000 international students. This low turnout raises concerns over UMSU INTL’s current electoral process. So, what should UMSU INTL do to boost student engagement in future elections?

More time for better preparation

“Fast” is the best word to summarise UMSU INTL’s current election procedure—10 days from the candidate information session to end of nominations; the week after, the policy speech session; two days after, the voting period. Although this can provide quick election results to impatient voters, it leaves candidates with little time to prepare. Compared to the UMSU general elections, where  candidates have at least four weeks to prepare for the election from the last day of submitting their nomination forms from the day nominations close, the hasty pace of UMSU INTL’s elections exhausts candidates. As Disha Zutshi, a presidential candidate put it, “They [UMSU INTL] do not give us a lot of time to really make our own materials, so it is like a mess […]  five to six days [for campaigning] will be appropriate, keep in mind the population of the body.” Haste smashes the one and only  chance of standing out in an almost completely online/virtual election.

This election was also sidelined due to its fully virtual nature. Indeed, we miss the time when candidates in their campaigning shirts stopped us on the way to Baillieu Library, introduced their policies and distributed colourful leaflets. The ambience on campus can never be replaced by fully online activities. Sufficient time is key to compensate for the reduced quality of preparation. UMSU INTL, which was approved to be an autonomous body in a recent UMSU Special General Meeting, can decide to extend the period after internal consensus. Then, the future of the UMSU INTL President, Vice-Presidents, Directors and Officers can be better known amongst the international student cohort. 

Alter inconsistent regulations on candidates

Currently, candidates are only allowed to campaign during the voting period. In other words, they have only three days to reach out to voters on social media, which is the major platform used to explain policies during the pandemic. Nevertheless, students are easily overwhelmed by the information overload brought on by social media, leading to them selectively ignoring crucial election messages. This makes it hard for voters to make informed decisions? A longer campaign period could ease the  digestion of election information. Moreover, the UMSU general elections do not have such regulations on their candidates’ campaigning period. Perhaps, UMSU INTL’s regulations could be given an equally long voting period with UMSU’s to indicate that the international student community is just as important to the University.

Throwing back to the voting period, I personally couldn’t even tell you what most of the candidates on the ballot looked like this year, as many missed the policy speech session, likely due to classes or other commitments. The absentee candidates lost a massive chance to present their policies to voters. Moreover, an anonymous international student explained that they did not have incentives to attend the three-hour-long session “unless we have friends that are one of the candidates”. Therefore, UMSU INTL should have a backup plan to assist these candidates in fulfilling their obligations. The student suggested that candidates could “make a video introducing themselves and why we should vote [for them]”. Another solution could be a text version of policy speeches. This could enable voters to quickly understand who is interested in being their future Union representatives

Diversify forms of promotion

UMSU INTL shares quality information about candidates on social media to disseminate election information to international students. Building on this, they should seek greater relevance within the international student community. UMSU INTL could collaborate with different national student associations in the University to broaden their audience. Hence, more students can stay well-informed about updates on the elections.

The circumstances of the 2021 UMSU INTL election should alert the central committee, who can vote to change the regulations, and allocate resources to optimise international students’ experience in the University, of the need to step out of their comfort zone to strengthen the bond between UMSU INTLand international students. If students cannot recognise future committees, the work of UMSU INTL will be stuck in an infinite loop—starting from a gorgeous plan, leading to successful events and changes on campus, yet students do not know who has contributed to them, so they have little interest to vote. 

Due to the global pandemic, international students need UMSU INTL, who represents them, strives for compassionate changes from the University and provides adequate support to get through tough times. Therefore, changes in regulations and promotions are urgently needed to raise the recognition of UMSU INTL’s central committee amongst international students.


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