International student movement: free education for all

Submitted by martin on 16 January, 2009 - 9:05 Author: Gemma Short

Recently I took part in an international webchat conference organised by activists, mainly in continental Europe, under the banner of the “international students movement — emancipating education for all”.

Despite the massive obstacles of organising with students from across the world, the core activists are somehow managing — with students from Australia, USA, Italy, Germany, Spain, Holland and the UK attending the web chat.

The main thrust for this co-ordination grew up around the “Bologna declaration” — a document set out by 29 European education ministers in June 1999 to reform the higher education system and make it convergent on a European level.

Various activities were carried out under the banner of an “International day of action against the marketisation of education” on the 5 November. Many groups responded to the call spectacularly, with actions in (wait for it it’s a long and impressive list) Canada, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Spain, Australia, USA, Liberia, Bangladesh, Austria, Argentina, UK, Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Holland, France, Ireland, Israel and the Philippines.

Many of the countries where action took place, even some of the biggest actions, do not face such huge levels of student debt and rising fees as we do here, or in the US, and many have a less obviously elitist education system with more grants and benefits.

However these students still want to protest at the marketisation of education, university management cutting services, staff wages suffering and a greater push towards two tired education — modulised, credits and applied to the labour market.

The Bologna declaration in Europe is a classic and widescale example of this and other countries seem to be facing similar processes, with one participant in the international webchat citing the “Melbourne Process” occurring in Australia. The Bologna declaration talks about making degrees comparable across Europe, modulising and using a credit-based system and “relevance to the European labour market”. It is about creating a European space for higher education which enhances the “employability” of students and increases the international competitiveness of European higher education.

Given 29 countries in the EU, including the UK, are carrying out the reforms in line with this trend of marketisation, and other countries are carrying out shockingly similar processes, international co-operation and solidarity are essential.

The webchat I took part in was a good step forward in that process, and many other little steps like that are being taken all over. It was inspiring to hear that university departments in Florence are still occupied from the day of action in November, that universities in Barcelona are currently occupied despite many students involved facing suspension and arrest.

Students in Germany are planning further actions and students in Holland setting up permanent student committees. As well as all that, those in the webchat were planning protests for the anniversary of the Bologna Declaration to happen locally and at the summit in Bologna in June.

Yet the UK National Union of Students still refuses to call for free education or to recognise the increasing marketisation of education; instead of taking the lead from European comrades, co-ordinating with them, and organising mass demonstrations and direct action. However students are taking actions themselves and the demonstration for free education called for the 25 February is the start.

Comrades in the webchat were keen to get involved in the demonstration and are sending messages of support; we should continue to build on links like this to reconstitute an international student movement that could really challenge the marketisation of our education.

* The International Students’ Movement: www.emancipating-education-for-all.org.

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