Spain: Education sector strikes against privatisation
Professors and students in more than 40 Spanish cities went on strike on March 24 against the government’s education reform aimed at privatising the public sector.
According to the unions who organised the strike, there was an 85% participation rate. High schools reached 90% participation around the country, according to a statement by Workers Commissions, FETE-UGT, the Independent Central of State Officials and Students of Spain in Movement.
The statement said the general strike aimed to “address the repeated assaults via executive orders that claim to reform public university through the back door, mocking the participation of the educational community and setting up a model that leaves behind … underprivileged families.”
The protests specifically targeted an executive order that will cut undergraduate degrees from four years to three, but increase masters from one year to two. The reform also significantly reduces grants and makes it harder to access them, disproportionately affecting underprivileged students.
The strike was the second organised so far this year against education reforms by Prime Minister Mario Rajoy's right-wing government.
France: Universities mobilise against cuts
Hundreds of professors and students from Paris and its suburbs demonstrated in early March in front of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research to protest against budget cuts to universities.
Students and researchers stuck their resumes to the ministry's gates with the words “indignant”, “outraged” and “precarious” written across them. The most affected university, Paris-Sud Orsay, launched a petition titled “Education is costly? Try ignorance!” It was signed by more than 2000 people in one week.
The organisers explained that since the state has been deserting its responsibilities in education, universities are finding it harder to operate normally. “Everywhere, positions are frozen or even cut, and courses are reduced,” said university academic and administrative staff union SNPTES-UNSA.
It demanded free access to public education, a plan to create positions for professors, and a significant increase in funds for courses, research labs and services.
Canada: Students protest fee hikes
Canadian students protested on March 24 to demand university tuition fees be scrapped. “So many other countries have established this, countries like Norway and Sweden,” student organiser Mairi Anderson told Global News. Anderson was one of dozens of students who protested at the University of Saskatchewan.
Protesters said rising tuition fees are forcing a growing number of students to take on burdensome debts that follow them long after they finish their studies.
Protest organiser Izabela Vlahu told CBC News: “Right now we're paralysing the majority of students because they're forced to pay student debt after graduation.”
More protests took place elsewhere in the country, including Montreal, where hundreds of students marched through the streets. Police declared the rally illegal, accusing organisers of failing to provide local authorities with their route details.
By late evening police had repeatedly attacked protesters, firing rubber bullets into the crowd. Protesters have been accused of vandalism, though student activists have alleged police kettled them. Kettling is a practice where police surround crowds, then aggresively move inwards to restrict movement.
Canada's average university fees have almost tripled in the past two decades, according to a grim report from the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives in late 2014.
“Nationally, university education has become, on average, 20 percent less affordable for median families in Canada since 1993,” the think tank said. The report predicted annual fees are set to reach a national average of over US$6000 within the next four years.