Students are revolting. By this I do not mean that they are unclean or seem to think that when a packet of chicken nuggets says ‘100% chicken’ it’s probably telling the truth, despite only costing 99p. No, students all over Europe are rebelling against the policies of their respective governments. The timing of everything is such that I’m sure conspirators will start musing on subliminal messages in the various versions of Cash in the Attic, to suddenly ignite fervent desires to give lost causes a last hope.
Britain is of course protesting in the rise in tuition fees from £3,000 per year to £9,000, and not unexpectedly, this hasn’t gone too well. Societies from universities nationwide held panicked committee meetings to decide what course of action should be taken to achieve maximum political impact. It maybe works against students of today that our collective imagination could only come up with a protest march. That said many universities that couldn’t take part in the marches in London have staged sit-ins. In a wonderful, reputation-enhancing move students are sitting around doing nothing – I can just imagine the headlines.
Predictably the government didn’t pay any attention to the outburst; furthermore, they used the inevitable violence that ensued as propaganda to make the general public begrudge the existing taxes they pay towards subsidising the academic elite of the country through higher education. Well done guys.
The protests in Britain, therefore, achieved nothing, if not actually pushing public opinion away from the student cause. The Italians, however, have managed to nail student protests in such a way that I think we could all learn something.
The Italians are protesting against a reform brought in that will see 9 billion Euros-worth of cuts in the education sector and the loss of 130,000 jobs. A representative from the Union of Universities admitted that the university system had problems, but this would be administering a lethal injection rather than the life-saving medicine it so desperately needs.
Both countries are similarly placed, therefore, when it comes to the future of academia. The Italians, however, did something worthy of the intellect that got them into their institutions. They paralysed the country to get everyone’s undivided attention for an entire working day; they blocked train platforms, roads, piazzas, and various miscellaneous public places to inhibit movement and cause disruption to the tune of a wasted working day in the Republic of Italy.
It worked as a metaphor, eerily predicting the future of their nation if they continued to destroy the foundations on which the education system was based: you’ll have to get used to running on 50% power, because in the future there won’t be enough people with sufficient qualifications to make up the difference.
Sadly even these protests ended in violence. The Italians had a really interesting point to make that was ruined by the arrival of some thugs wearing masks and wielding spray paint; the public lumps them in with the earnest, hard-working students that are striving to make a real difference. Reputation is everything.
Until the proposals become law, the students all over Europe will put aside the TV remote to go and stand outside in the snow with witty placards and flasks of tea. Until these protests stop descending into brawls, however, no-one will listen, no matter how clever we are.