Is Facebook Replacing the Ballot Box?

by Josephine Serrallach

The New Zealand Chapter of Transparency International (TINZ) is embarking on a journey to understand the level of commitment by NZ Universities in the critical role of thought leadership about retaining and investing in stronger integrity systems to prevent corruption.

A matter of concern to TINZ is what appears to be a disengagement of young people from taking an active part in the political development of the country as reflected by the low percentage of young people turning out to vote in the last general election.

At the 2014 general election, 73.35% of eligible people aged 18 to 24 enrolled to participate and of these only 62.73% voted, thus the total participation of that age group was 45%. This means that people in this age group aren’t greatly motivated to play any active part in the political arena, and, consequently, wouldn’t know how to seize the levers that produce the type of society they would wish to live in in the future.

Prof Stuart McCutcheon and Josephine Serrallach

Prof Stuart McCutcheon and Josephine Serrallach

The University of Auckland has 42,000 individual students enrolled, 6,000 are international students comprising 108 nationalities, the largest group being Chinese and the second largest North American (mainly Study Abroad students). This translates to 32,000 full time equivalents, including 5,000 international EFTs.

In a discussion with TINZ's Josephine Serrallach, University of Auckland Vice Chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, said that apathy is not the right word to describe their state of affairs.  He considers that there is a high level of student engagement on social, environmental and community issues, which, however, is not translated in turning up to vote or in participating in the formal political process. Professor McCutcheon quoted as examples, the strong support for the green movement among university students and the great number of student-led initiatives and programmes throughout the University. Although some students are mainly interested in CV building, in general they more than ever want to do good and contribute to the community.

Earlier generations of students were involved in protest movements against the establishment, he added, while now students’ views and voices could reach millions through social media. Professor McCutcheon agrees that although students are community-minded and they contribute to society, there seems to be a level of cynicism about what can be achieved through the formal political process.

Speculating over the reasons for the low voting turn out, MMP could be a factor. McCutcheon pointed out that in the past, people knew that their vote would count to put a political party in power, while now a vote has less direct influence as it depends on party coalitions to form a government without a majority.

Professor McCutcheon stated that the University has a role in promoting critical thinking through rational discussion and debates to provide the structures to be able to do so in a safe environment.

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