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Under 7% of students vote in AUSA elections

Sabbatical ballot turnout one of lowest ever despite incentives and “endorsements”

By: Jake Roslin

Ruby Barker endorsement - Image courtesy of AUSA

Only 6.7% of Aberdeen University students voted in the mid-March online elections for the Students’ Association’s new leaders.

The ballot determined the five sabbatical officers who will run AUSA in the next academic year. All are recent graduates or taking a year out from their studies, and the positions are salaried.

The three-way race for Student President attracted most voters at 993, or 6.7% of the university’s 14,775 undergraduates and postgraduates (latest available figures, 2018/19).

The contests for the four Vice Presidents of Communities, Education and Sport and Welfare, attracted between 910 and 950 electors. These numbers included students who voted ‘Re-Open Nominations’, indicating they considered no candidate suitable. All positions but VP Education were contested.

Meanwhile, AUSA’s incentive to optionally enter voters into a draw for one of seven prize gift cards worth up to £200 has attracted student criticism, as has a short ‘endorsement’ video by actor Ruby Barker.

It has emerged that Barker, who appears in the Netflix drama series Bridgerton, provided the message for AUSA via a celebrity message website,

The service, which ‘lets you hire celebrities to create personalized videos for any occasion’ is understood to have charged the Students Association £26.25 for the 22-second clip, during which Barker relays a message encouraging students to vote, mispronouncing ‘AUSA’. She then blows a kiss to the camera.

The clip was shared by AUSA on social media to a limited and often derisory response. One Tweeter commented: ‘I’m sorry but AUSA hiring a minor Bridgerton actress... is funny as hell... whose idea was this?’

Aberdeen University’s Principal, Professor George Boyne, also made a last-minute appeal to encourage students to cast their ballots by way of an email sent to all undergraduates and postgraduates early on 18 March, the final day of voting.

Asked whether institutional involvement in the student representative body was appropriate, a University spokesperson said: ‘Engaging in the democratic process whether student, local or national elections is a responsibility for us all and as such, while the University has not been involved in AUSA’s election campaign, we were happy to promote it to students through our channels.’

George Taylor, a 4th-year Physics undergraduate, finished runner-up for Student President after standing on a “Protest AUSA” ticket.

‘The majority of students still do not know who the Sabbatical Officers are or what they do,’ he told The Gaudie. He also criticised AUSA’s “hypocrisy” in offering high value gift cards to voters when a candidate who had done so would have breached election rules and believed Ruby Barker’s message ‘smacks of last-minute panic. A waste of students’ money’.

‘AUSA needs total structural reform if it is to survive,’ he continued. ‘This includes bringing the AUSA building into student ownership to turn it into a proper students’ union, putting more power into the hands of students, and radical reform of the elections.’

This year’s 6.7% student turnout figure is not the lowest for the sabbatical elections, with only 5.4% recorded last year, despite most students being on campus at that time. It is understood participation averaged around 20% a decade ago, and has fallen steadily since.

The Gaudie reached out to AUSA for comment on the gift voucher incentives, the commissioning of the Ruby Barker video, and the involvement of the University Principal. However, no response was received by the time of publishing.


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