“Join our strike!”
“Save Our University!”
“Education is not for sale!”
These protest chants were heard far beyond the UC campuses during the last two weeks of November after UC Regents voted 25 to 1 to increase UC student tuition 32 percent. Students from colleges, universities and groups throughout the U.S. to supporters in Austria, Germany and Croatia joined California students in an effort to defend public education.
As part of an independent student initiative for the right to free education that was formed in spring 2009, Croatian students formed a group to help mobilize protests in California, similar to those happening in Zagreb and throughout Europe this fall.
A letter showed support to UC students from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, Croatia.
“We started our fight in education but [recognize] this to be just a piece of the larger problem,” said the student initiative letter addressed to protesters in California. “Our goals are the same and our methods similar.”
One of the main UC strike and protest blogs, whose.university.OURuniversity, received entries of solidarity from beyond the ten UC campuses. Letters of support were posted from University of Hawaii, at Manoa, City University in New York, students from the state of Connecticut and even from students at the liberal arts college Oberlin College in Ohio.
Globally, the UC strikes have struck a chord with many students who are also fighting for public education in Europe, though in many European countries protesters are working to keep education free for all people.
Julia Pauselius, a 22-year-old first-year North American studies and cultural anthropology major in the John F. Kennedy Institute at the Free University of Berlin, said students throughout Germany have mobilized in an effort to keep education affordable. A year of university education throughout the German regions is roughly €500 (euros) or $750 per year for public education.
The German government recently added fees to a formerly free student tuition, which spurred protest movements throughout Germany, Pauselius said.
“There is a great need for solidarity [for] less fortunate students and university-employees [in Germany] as well as overseas,” Pauselius said in an e-mail interview. “When we at the Institute heard about the strikes in the United States we felt [a] strong need for support.”
In Austria, student protests have been ongoing this fall. Since Oct. 20, students have been occupying the Academy of Arts in Vienna. Students from University of Vienna soon followed suit, said Eva Kügerl, a second- year German major at the University of Vienna.
Every day students live, eat and work on the Vienna campuses. There are concerts, presentations and workshops aiming to show the system that the protests are an organized group that wants to effect change and move the situation forward. The protest has spread throughout Austria and more recently throughout Europe, Kügerl said.
“Every country has to fight symptoms of the educational crisis,” she said in an e-mail interview. “But the main problem is the same all over the world. Education has apparently lost its worth.”
Kügerl and other protesters in Europe said they are in solidarity with UC students.
“Vienna’s involvement in the UC strike is that we are all on the same side; we fight for the same things,” Kügerl said.
David Stenner, a first-year history graduate student from Bremen, Germany said he understands the motivations behind the protests but thinks students are going about it incorrectly.
“I think it’s ridiculous, because the state [pays for education] and the University of California doesn’t have any money,” Stenner said. “In Germany they have the same problem.”
In Germany and most of Europe, however, the discussions and protests concern lowering costs rather than fighting increases, such as the recent 32 percent fee hike in California, he said.
“What I would [suggest students] do here is write to their parents and neighbors to vote for tax increases. Instead of protesting to Yudof, people should say that [they will] increase taxes for education,” Stenner said.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.