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Student protests in Chile – deadlocked at home but going international

The half-year struggle for the future of higher education in Chile shows little sign of resolution. Instead, as anticipated (see ACA Newsletter – Education in Europe, August 2011), the student movement there has integrated broader social elements, particularly among environmentalists and advocates of constitutional change.

Wide national protests kept many supporters on the streets in September and October, but negotiations between the students and the Chilean government did not result in any concrete agreements. On 20 October, a group of students and environmentalists broke into the former senate building in downtown Santiago, interrupting a budget committee meeting between members of congress and Education Minister Felipe Bulnes. This subcommittee was to start the review process on Chile’s proposed and unprecedentedly big budget for education in 2012, before it comes to a vote in the months ahead. The protesters called on senators and members of parliament to reject the budget until it incorporates the demands made by the student movement with regard to free higher education, and support a national referendum on educational and environmental issues.

Earlier in the month, Chilean student leaders Camila Vallejo, Giorgio Jackson and Francisco Figueroa visited Brussels, Geneva and Paris in order to attend meetings at UNESCO, OECD, the European Parliament, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other organisations in Europe. The European tour of the Chilean activists was supported by student leaders in France, Italy and Great Britain as well as representatives of the Spanish “Indignados” movement. Judged by the Chilean student leaders themselves as a very positive experience, this European trip can be seen as an attempt to attract international support for the demand for “free and dignified” education in Chile as well as a part of a broader social movement in Europe and beyond.

Meanwhile in Colombia, the largest nationwide protests held for many years by university student representatives took place in October. The students there say they will continue their strike and mass protests until the government withdraws its higher education reform proposal from parliament. The students fear that this reform will lead to privatisation of higher education in Colombia and financial troubles for public universities.

Santiago Times, protesters occupy the government building Santiago Times, proposed education budget in Chile Le Monde diplomatique, the European tour of Chilean student leaders (in Spanish) European Students' Union, the visit of Chilean student leaders to Paris