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Students and lecturers’ turmoil across countries: a focus on India, South Africa, Tunisia and Hungary

On 7 February, university students across India took to the streets to ask for improvements in higher education and for academic freedom and freedom of expression on campuses. Students from Delhi University, Allahabad University and Ambedkar University Delhi, representatives of students’ associations and unions and youth organisations criticise the government’s recent cut in higher education. The protests are also targeting the government’s massive job cut, “anti-youth and inefficient policies” leading to high unemployment rates all over the country, both in the public and private sectors. President Modi defends himself by blaming the lack of available data on jobs and employment rates. 

In South Africa, as the academic year is about to begin, students already started protesting again the government’s mismanagement of the university sector. Students demand free higher education and an improvement in the student financial aid scheme concerning registration fees, infrastructural development, accommodation and food, among other things. The government’s student funding agency, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), was accused to have failed to deal with the affordability and bureaucratic problems posed by guaranteeing free higher education for all. During the mounting tensions, one student was shot dead on campus by private security guards. 

On the lecturers’ side, in Tunisia, university teachers and researchers have been on strike since January 2019 thus paralysing Tunisian universities’ activities. It is reported that more than 120 000 students in 72 HEIs were prevented from taking their exams. The claims, voiced by the general coordinator of the Union of Tunisian University Lecturers and Researchers (IJABA), Najemedine Jouida, concern the government’s failure to respect the agreement made between IJABA and the Minister of Higher Education, Slim Khalbous, in June 2018. The provisions envisaged to tackle corruption inside private universities, preserve public universities’ status and increase the enrolment of PhD candidates.    

The Hungarian Prime Minister’s move to restructure the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ (MTA) research and funding scheme sparked protests among Hungarian scientists and academics. The latter fear that this reform will threaten academic freedom and are concerned over a possible governmental interference in science and research. The MTA is entirely funded by the Hungarian government and allocates the budget, according to research needs, to the various institutions that form its scientific network. Orbán launched, instead, a tender for the funds, in an attempt to “make research more efficient” and “create a direct economic profit”. Researchers protest against what they see as the government’s effort to withdraw basic funding from research institutions and to dictate political and ideological goals on their scientific work.