Local issues, global actions by student activists
Our national contexts may differ and our campaign slogans might vary – but whether it’s standing up against cuts to student grants in Denmark or rejecting tuition fee increases in South Africa, students all over the world are facing the same challenges of underfunding and demanding a fairer deal. And so, as our struggles become increasingly shared, our response becomes global.
Fund our Future is an initiative that was born out of a conversation between student activists from Europe, South and North America, Asia and the Pacific during a global student voice meeting.
Discussions revealed that common issues for all student activists were symptoms of underfunding of our education system. These include: tuition fees and cuts to grants that restrict access for the poorest students; limited state funding for our institutions reducing the quality of our classroom experiences; and increasing levels of poverty felt by students.
We realised we have a lot to learn from each other and that, too often, we aren’t aware of the struggles students face in other countries.
The initiative aims to provide a global platform through which students can share their experiences and ideas, showcase campaigns and protests as they happen and facilitate the sharing of support and solidarity. Locally, specific demonstrations have taken or are taking place throughout the months of October and November, with online actions focusing on the 17th November – the international day of the student.
On this day in 1939, Nazi troops stormed Charles University in Prague, killing nine students and sending more than 1,200 to concentration camps – a response to peaceful protests led by students against the occupation. This day is commemorated every year to promote students’ rights and access to education and to draw attention to the social and democratic impact of student activists.
This sharing of support and solidarity is one of the main purposes of the website, http://www.globalstudentvoice.org. Although, for so many students, the battles they face are local, they are not alone in fighting them. By providing an easy way for student movements around the globe to contact each other, we will build a network of support that reminds students that they’re part of something bigger.
Now, more than ever, we need solidarity. It’s not just the increasing cost of education, or the underfunding of our institutions. Threats to students’ rights go further than simply financial ones.
During the last year, we’ve seen increased attacks globally on students’ rights to self-organise, with peaceful protests disrupted, students arrested and an increase in police brutality on campuses. Mass imprisonment in Zimbabwe and Burma and the use of rubber bullets and stun grenades in South Africa are just some of many shocking examples.
The right of students to peacefully protest, and to self-organise, is a core value of the global student movement and so facilitating the global promotion of the struggles students are facing locally, means that we’re championing that right and helping support those struggling for it when it doesn’t exist.
Different systems, different approaches
Regionally, we have a lot to learn from each other – we have very different funding systems and political contexts, yet we can benefit from practical campaigning ideas or research to win the arguments on funding education.
We all have something unique to offer a global campaign and the opportunity to learn from one another and share our experiences is important in building an understanding of each other’s contexts – and through that, a feeling of being part of a wider movement. That will only strengthen our resolve and motivation to fight locally.
One of the main focuses of the campaign on many national levels is the growing call for a decolonised education system – one that is truly liberated, from curriculum to delivery, and one redesigned to be reflective of the lived experiences and history of those that study it and the society within which it exists.
This is an example of where a global campaign facilitates an opportunity to share our perspectives, enhance our learning process and, crucially, our understanding of different contexts and perspectives.
Challenges and opportunities
An increasingly international education system presents both challenges and opportunities.
Our need to cooperate is furthered by the potential consequences of an increasingly globalised higher education system – a change necessary to meet future challenges, but one that risks further embedding inequalities. Students’ voices must be central to the future development of education globally, to ensure that the provisions put in place meet societal and student needs.
This increasingly international higher education system has the potential to tackle shared issues and challenges through cooperation and partnership, for example, climate change, sustainable development and education as a public good. But without students’ involvement, or students’ voices heard in this process, that opportunity may be missed.
But sharing support and solidarity isn’t just helping support our campaigns on campus or in the classrooms, it’s helping to increase cooperation, and communication, between students globally.
At a time where, politically, division and hate is becoming a dominant narrative, students can, and should, be at the forefront of promoting the values of internationalisation and cooperation. Through building a global network of activists, increasing awareness of issues around the world and facilitating communication, a global approach to campaigning is also ensuring that this generation is one that cooperates, talks and values those vital international links.
And so, as this campaign develops over the coming months, as new student movements join and our network grows, at the heart of this whole project is a desire by students worldwide to be at the forefront of fostering partnerships, increasing communication and leading the way in fighting for a better world, together.
Join us, by signing and sharing the petition, sending messages of support and solidarity to the global actions, or share your own experiences.
Beth Button is an executive committee member of the European Students' Union. More information on the Fund Our Future campaign can be found here: #FundOurFuture; http://www.globalstudentvoice.org; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Fund0urFuture/ Twitter: @Fund0urfuture