The entirety of ‘things wot gon dun happened to students last year’ can’t in all honesty be contained in a listicle. Much as in years before, and likely years to come, 2016 was an often bloody year for anything that might resemble a real ‘student movement’ worldwide.
In everything that made last year a horrible one, a lot of what made it horrible for students vanished into the miasma of 24/7 crisis news. Between natural disaster and political disintegration, an often fierce struggle for a better world played out in disparate movements across the globe.
A national student strike ground the education system to a halt in Spain. Students joined thousands of militant workers fighting labour law reform in France. Youth riots carried the ragged flag of the Arab Spring into its fifth year in Bahrain. 18-year-old Danish Mazoor was shot dead at independence clashes in Kashmir. Sudanese student Abubakar Hassan was killed by security forces at Kordofan University, as was Peter Ofurum at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria. Occupations gripped over 200 schools in São Paulo, Brazil to stop their closure. 70,000 marched against education cuts in Buenos Ares, Argentina.
Perhaps it is all too much to comprehend and maybe even not particularly connected to us here in the depths of the Australasian world. But for whatever glimmer of internationalist idealism it’s worth, here are some of the most dramatic, destructive, and occasionally inspiring things to happen to students in 2016.
University of Port Moresby Papua New Guinea
Closest to us geographically, 17 students at the University of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea were injured when police opened fire on an anti-government demonstration calling for PM Peter O’Neill to step down over corruption allegations. The shooting sparked riots and unrest throughout June in the capital and other parts of the country. Buildings and cars were torched on the campus, as well as claims of police stations being stormed by locals in the Highlands Region. O’Neill has been ducking and weaving attempts to bring him to court since serious investigations began three years ago.
New education reform Chile
Repeated clashes between students (with help from sympathetic workers) and riot police (with help from the military) broke out at several major demonstrations in Chile over demands that the government cease stalling plans to introduce free tertiary education. Numbering up to 100,000 in Santiago on several occasions, efforts to quell the protests, which have been ongoing for a decade, went as far as the deployment of police to particularly restive campuses ahead of demonstrations to ‘dissuade’ students from skipping class to attend.
Oaxaca Teachers’ strike, Mexico
Over a dozen people were killed in widespread fighting between education workers and police in Oaxaca, Mexico during a four month long national teachers strike. The strike, which largely ended in September, pitched teachers and their students against the government over the arrest of union leaders and the introduction of education reforms that proposed instituting bulk-testing for teachers across the education system.
Oromia Protests, Ethiopia
Since August, over 500 people have been killed and thousands detained in Ethiopia during anti-government protests to end political repression, human rights abuses, and land seizures. Students have been particularly mobilised alongside workers, Oromo farmers and human rights organisations. Ongoing since late 2015, the protests are over a plan by the Ethiopian government to integrate the capital, Addis Ababa, with the surrounding towns, which would have required the dislocation of local Oromo farmers from their land. Around 10 students were killed in a massacre on 10 December 2015, immediately preceding the wave of repression last year.
Education sector purge, Turkey
In the aftermath of Turkey’s failed 15 July coup d’état attempt, some 44,000 Ministry of Education workers and over 7,000 academics have been sacked or arrested by the government as part of a massive ongoing state purge. A determined push has hit the education system to remove accused sympathisers of the exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, a former ally of President Erdoğan and now the favoured bogeyman of the ruling government (alongside Kurdish separatism). The wave of sackings has also seen over 1,000 private schools and 15 universities closed by the state, alongside hundreds of other institutions from trade unions to media outlets and medical clinics.
Fees Must Fall campaign, South Africa
Reignition of the Fees Must Fall campaign in South Africa saw occupations sweep university campuses across the country in August, demanding that no increases be made to tuition fees in 2017. The same demand had been achieved in the initial 2015 occupation wave, with many angling for the eventual rollout of free tertiary education across South Africa. The University of Witwatersrand Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib estimated, during initial discussions with students early last year, that a R8 billion (about $850 million NZD) increase in government funding of tertiary education would suffice to cover all tuition fees. As percentage of GDP South Africa spends considerably less on tertiary education (0.7%) than both the OECD average (1.3%) and many of its continental neighbours (Ghana spends twice as much at 1.4%).