A global rise in student activism and the centrality of student concerns to national politics and to higher education prompted University World News to collate this series of Special Reports looking into student movements and issues raised by them. The aim is to deepen understanding and debate on what is transpiring across the student world. We urge readers to disseminate the Special Reports to students. – Karen MacGregor, series editor.
Students have cut their political teeth in student movements that have swept several countries in East, Southeast and South Asia in the past few years, and many have succeeded in holding their governments to account. But these student-led movements are in danger of fizzling out unless they attract broader societal support for their stances on political issues.
Several pro-democracy student groups in Thailand have come together as the New Democracy Movement, which is beginning to make its presence felt in the run-up to a referendum on a new military-backed constitution due to take place in August. But it is far from certain whether the movement can have a wider impact in the current climate of repression.
Hong Kong’s protest movement has seen the emergence of student leaders who have encouraged people to imagine what kind of world might be possible as an alternative to the status quo.
After the release in March of dozens of student leaders from prison, students are planning their next steps under the new democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi – will they call off their protest over the controversial national education law or enter the political arena to achieve their goals?
Ukraine experienced from 2013-14 how effective student action can be. Students were at the forefront of the Revolution of Dignity that achieved political reform, helped develop a new higher education law and chose the new minister of education. Students proved that they could truly be agents of change – professionalised student representation is the next step.
Students were muzzled after the 1980 coup in Turkey, but have banded together to protest about student-related issues such as rising fees. Then in 2013 they led lifestyle-type protests against police violence.
Following the global financial crash, students around the world have been joining together to reform the economics curriculum so that it is less narrow and better adapted to current global challenges.
The “incredible human costs” of student protests in South Africa in the past two years has been missed amid the turmoil, for students and staff and especially for university leaders, says Professor Jonathan Jansen, whose resignation as vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State was announced last week – and as campuses countrywide continued burning.
Decolonisation movements at universities in the United Kingdom are linking up and being driven by international students who are seeking greater diversity and recognition of colonial legacies. While calls for decolonisation are popular in South Africa and Britain, it will only be when the campaigns also find resonance elsewhere that there can be a truly global movement.
The new book Student Politics in Africa: Representation and activism highlights trends including a penetration by national politics into student representation and the co-option of student leaders through ‘incentives’. Also, marketisation has led to a dearth of ideology in student politics and new dynamics in institutional governance.
Converting the gains made by student movements in South Africa into a critically reflexive, creative and socially responsive curriculum and learning environment provides an opportunity to combat and subvert neo-liberalisation from the inside out.
The student movement in Zimbabwe disintegrated under authoritarian rule and is no longer able to mobilise for mass action. To enjoy rights and freedoms citizens need to be activists against the state, but to be activists against the state citizens need to enjoy at least some key rights and freedoms – the ‘no freedom without freedom’ paradox.
The last few years have seen big funding cuts to higher education across Europe, resulting in a move to greater debt and compromises on quality. Governments will pay the price in the long term for not investing in the future.
Universities, policy-makers and domestic students need to stand up against growing discrimination in Europe against international students.
Research shows several barriers to study abroad. But on closer inspection it may be more about whether or not students view such study as the norm.
The last decade has seen an increasing number of student protest movements around the world, but what is driving them and why are some more successful than others?
There is broad global agreement that to maintain a competitive edge in a rapidly transforming knowledge economy, countries need to invest more in higher education. The vexing question is what proportion the government, business and different income groups in society should contribute – because nowhere in the world is there ‘free’ higher education.
Students have led the way in challenging the neo-liberalism underpinning higher education in Chile since Augusto Pinochet’s days. Despite having had a significant impact politically, they continue to protest and argue in favour of free, quality higher education.
In a dramatic turnaround in the past year, Japanese students and young people have shed their conventional image as docile members of society to become major players in national politics.
“Rule-breaking and protest are an inherent right of students. They are part of growing up and part of understanding the importance of rules and making the right kind of rules. They are also a first step towards dialogue,” says Sanjana Krishnan, a PhD student at India’s University of Hyderabad and an anti-caste student activist.