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Recent protests are events that link the higher education sectors in Sri Lanka, Côte d’Ivoire and Quebec, though the underlying reasons, the national realities and the protestataires are different from one case to the other.
In Sri Lanka, 13 state universities have been officially reopened this month by the Sri Lankan higher education minister – S. B. Dissanayake – making it possible for the university year to start within the country. The universities had been shut down on 22 August for an indefinite period by the same minister, after nearly two months of national strikes initiated by academics and a failure to reach a compromise. Both parties in this national dispute – the government on the one hand, and the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) on the other hand – accused each other of political interference. The government claimed that FUTA aims to overthrow the regime, while FUTA criticised the “militarisation” of universities and the plans of the government to partly privatise the higher education system, which had always been state funded. FUTA demanded an increase in expenditure on education (from 1.9% to 6% of GDP) and a salary increase for university staff of 20%. The minister’s gesture of reopening universities was not accompanied by any explanatory note, while most of the FUTA claims were, at the time of writing, unmet.
In Côte d’Ivoire universities were also reopened this month, after two years of closure. The universities were devastated and ultimately closed down in the post-electoral crisis. The government has now earmarked EUR 150 million to rehabilitate the institutions – some of which have also changed name in this process. For example, the University of Cocody – the largest in the country – is now called University Félix Houphouët-Boigny, after the first president of the country. Nevertheless, the restored institutions still have to face important challenges, the most pressing of which having to do with capacity limits. They now have to enrol four generations of students in the first year of studies, i.e. more than 80 000 new entrants.
In turn, the student movement in the Canadian province of Quebec has finally scored important victories in the most impressive rally of recent years against a proposed increase in tuition fees (see also ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, May 2012). The student movement is believed to be behind the recent electoral defeat of the Liberal Party – previously in power – and the withdrawal from politics of former Prime Minister Jean Charest. The incoming premier Pauline Marois, from the leftist group Québec Solidaire, has annulled in her first 24-hours in office the planned fee increase, announcing though the intention to discuss in the coming months with the student representative bodies a plan to index tuition fees to the rate of inflation. This would however be a minor increase compared to the previous proposal of more than 80% growth over seven years. The prime minister also annulled the controversial Law 78, which tried to severely restrict the rights of students to protest.
RFI (in French)