Not only students, but also not enough: the waves of protest in the higher education in Italy

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Abstract

In time of economic crisis, since the 2008 credit crunch, many Western and European countries entered in the “age of austerity” characterized by the imposition of unprecedented large cuts in welfare state provision. Even the public education institutions have been affected by government policies characterized by budget cuts, neoliberal private-oriented reforms and increase in tuition fees for students. In reaction to this, in the following years, various global waves of protests have arisen in many countries all over the world. Differently from the past, not only students have promoted these mobilizations, although they are majority, but also the education systems workforce: from professors/teachers to permanent and precarious researchers, from temporary workers to technical- administrative employees. Although these mobilizations have had specific characteristics related to the national contexts, they have shared common aspects as the defence of public education and the refusal of the commercialization/marketization and privatization process. In this paper I focus on the mobilizations in the higher education system occurred in Italy. The most important waves of protests were in 2008-2010 against the budget cuts and the university neoliberal reform promoted by the former centre-right Education Minister Gelmini. If in the 2008, students and precarious workers mainly promoted the Anomalous Wave movement, so called for its unpredictability, in the 2010, beyond the students, the open-ended researchers were the main protagonists. Notwithstanding the mass participation and the sympathy of part of the public opinion, the reform and the cuts were approved and then, the mobilizations decreased and seemed to be completely finished. I argue that these mobilizations were unsuccessful not only because of the fragmentation of student organizations and because of the low salience of higher education in Italian public opinion, but also because protesters were not supported by most university staff and hindered by the academic authorities (deans and rectors).

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