Whatever happened to the gung-ho, passionate student that craved involvement and lived for student participation? The long lines for Arts Camp and the sell-out crowds at the O-Week parties have died out, as student participation in university-run events is on the decline.
Students on campus this year would have noticed considerably less excitement around club events.
There have been no signs of lengthy queues to purchase tickets, even as clubs ramp up their marketing for events that were once only available via second hand sales.
President of the Melbourne Arts Students Society (M-ASS), Daniel Sango, says declining involvement is unprecedented.
“In 2015, we had the biggest lines. We had massive lines all along South Lawn for Paint and Glow and Suit Up parties,” he said.
This year, M-ASS did not run a Suit Up party in Semester One. Nor did it sell out Arts Camp at the beginning of the year.
“It’s a bit hit and miss, it depends on the events and the excitement surrounding the events,” Sango said.
Another of the University of Melbourne’s big clubs, the Science Students Society (SSS), is in a similar position to M-ASS. According to the club’s Vice President, Jose Carranceja, SSS events are suffering too.
“Archived records of membership from 2013 show numbers fluctuating between 1600-1700 paid memberships. General trends for events show there has been a noticeably smaller attendance at our larger themed events.”
So, what is causing students to turn away from big club events? Sango believes that there are just too many options for students.
“I think overall, there’s an over-saturation in terms of events. Not exactly from our end, but all societies and then also University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Activities-run events. There are so many options, I think people either spread out so much or are turned off,” he told Farrago.
UMSU Activities Office Bearer Jacinta Cooper agreed.
“Clubs are all kind of competing with themselves. There is definitely an over-saturation. Clubs see other clubs running really good events, ones that would have sold out. Then they do it and it doesn’t make any of them special anymore.”
UMSU Activities has also experienced its fair share of difficulty this year when trying to promote events.
“It’s a challenge,” Cooper said.
“We are all trying to accommodate for one market, and we are really trying to branch out and have something for everyone in the student body. We are trying so hard, but are at a loss on how to do that.”
UMSU remains just ahead of the pack when it comes to ticket sales.
“We get student funding which reduces ticket prices … we have a bit of an advantage there.”
As such, there has been an increase in the number of events held by UMSU – for example, the Union House House Party and Sleepover at the beginning of the year.
Cooper pointed to the Melbourne Model as a potential reason as to why students are not getting as involved with clubs anymore.
“I do think the workload with the Melbourne Model has just meant there’s less time for people to go to things. The workload has increased more than what it was if you were studying in your first year five years ago.”
Former UMSU Clubs and Societies Office Bearer, Ryan Davey, believes it is a difficult situation to analyse.
“It’s really hard to pinpoint just one cause for the drop off in student participation that we have seen in recent years,” he said.
“The cost of living in Melbourne has increased dramatically, especially standard renting costs, so I would not be surprised if students are having to work a lot more than they used to.”
However, Davey holds no concerns when it comes to student participation and inclusion.
“The total number of clubs has also continued to increase, so students are still participating in extracurricular activities at the University,” he said.
While some of the bigger clubs and UMSU Activities are struggling to entice crowds like the past, some of the smaller clubs are drawing on their niche audiences to expand their membership.
President of the Melbourne University Italian Social Club (MUISC), Chelsea Cucinotta, says membership numbers continue to rise.
“This year we have had 431 people sign up for memberships, which is a huge increase in numbers compared to last year, when we had 306.”
A benefit for the smaller groups such as MUISC is their ability to attract people based on shared interest.
“Being a smaller club with ‘Italian’ in our title certainly helps in attracting students of Italian background and those studying Italian,” Cucinotta said.
Similarly, the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) has seen constant growth in its membership over the last few years.
“We continue to grow because students are able to continue their own old friendships from high school whilst meeting like-minded people. They want to be able to subscribe to the new university experience with a sense of familiarity,” said Internal Vice President of the club, Jimmy Bui.
When asked about the decreasing numbers of the bigger clubs, Cucinotta was not sure of the cause.
“Maybe students don’t spend as much time on campus, or are looking for a bit of change with events. As a club we know that our food-based events are the more popular ones.”
A common theme amongst the clubs was a reliance on social media. “Social media helps us reach audiences that we could never reach on our own,” Cooper said.
“Having an online presence through social media has helped us enormously in expanding our membership base. We particularly rely on Facebook for welcoming first year or new students.”
Meanwhile, the VSA’s use of social media is strong, as there is a collective organisation of promoters across other universities to help it publicise events both online and through word of mouth.
Members often change their profile pictures so their friends can see it. This technique is all the more effective if there is a large amount of the similar profile pictures appearing across VSA members’ Facebook pages.
However, according to Davey, “clubs can also attribute decreased participation to the reduced reach of Facebook pages and events that they create.”
A comparison of two of M-ASS’ past mid-year ‘After Exams Party’ Facebook events shows a noticeably decreased amount of interest.
In June 2015, over 1.6 thousand people had clicked ‘attending’. However, this year, only 253 people had clicked ‘attending’. Ticket prices remained the same across both events.
In addition, the SSS’ End of Exams party had 724 people click attending in 2016. This year’s number was down to 492.
Davey told Farrago that Facebook is having a significantly less influence for the bigger clubs.
“For a number of years, large clubs could rely on Facebook alone to sell out their events. I think it was at the start of 2016 that this abruptly ended, and events were only getting a fraction of the reach online. Facebook must have clued onto the success and decided that they could charge pages for it.”
The decrease in Facebook interest collides with the same time that queues for party tickets ceased on campus.
Sango is aiming to increase excitement around his club’s events during Semester Two, but he acknowledges it is a difficult task.
“We are going to have a big discussion about what our goals are as committee members and then as a society as a whole.”
He said his aim is to have the best parties for M-ASS members.
“While selling out events is great, and having the biggest events is awesome, it’s more about having quality events for our members. It’s unrealistic to have exponential growth every year.”