As the student movement in the UK gears up for what will hopefully be another mass revival in activism and political engagement amongst young people, Germany is already celebrating free education.
But the success hasn’t come easy, and it is worth reminding those involved in the struggle here that tuition fees will still be in place the day after the national demonstration for free education on 19 November. They may well still be here in ten years. Germany won the fight after 15.
In 1999, the Alliance Against Tuition Fees was founded, made up of 200 organisations including student unions, trade unions and political parties. Students organised fee strikes and occupations in direct response to the introduction of fees, relentless in changing the minds of as many people as possible.
In 2013, public opinion had changed so much about how higher education should be structured and funded that students in Bavaria delivered a successful petition for a state referendum on HE policy, which was signed by 15% of the population there. Days later it was announced that tuition fees would be scrapped. Now the last state to charge fees – Lower Saxony – has come into line.
Both Germany and the UK are pretty rich and both have conservative governments – and perhaps one of the key things to look at, which is often overlooked, is how effective grassroots struggles are.
When persistent, determined and organised, the masses can force the government to make 180-degree turns on massive issues such as free education, which is fundamentally a human right, but is also something which a lot of people going to university now would never even imagine you could change.