Partying and protesting: The student movement

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Students have been ranting and raving for donkeys years, and it doesn’t look as though that’s about to stop either. But what exactly have the students been moaning about for the past 50 years? Going back almost half a century, we can see where the start of these major student riots perhaps came from.

Although globally felt, the majority of the impact hit France, particularly Paris. The capitalist drive of the former president Charles De Gaulle affected the students of the 60s very heavily, as well as the rise in the standard of living which made parents more inclined to send their children to university.  There were around 550,000 students in France in 1968, but not enough provisions to cope with the amount of students involved in the university system. There were not enough tutors per student, the old fashioned teaching style allowed little contact time between student and tutor, classes were overcrowded, lecture courses were impersonal, there was a lack of funding for scholarships, and students were fed up of traditional assessment techniques such as exams. It was the culmination of these factors that lead to overall discontent within the universities. Students were also segregated by sex resulting in illegal invasions onto the female campuses creating more problems, leading to an all round uninspiring situation for young academics.

In addition to this, students were also espousing left-wing causes, be it Communism, Anarchism or the rejection of the Vietnam War. Many saw the events as an opportunity to shake the old society on many social aspects, with the most important being methods of education. The French police, who had a history of violence and brutality, went out and attacked students who were using their democratic right to protest. After over 20,000 protesters had shouted about their cause, a new law was finally passed. This law encouraged the decentralisation of universities via autonomy, and encouraged the much needed participation of students within the system.

Running parallel to this, a student activist movement in the United States was fighting for a more democratic student society. The SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) was one of the main iconic representations of the country’s New Left movement, and developed and expanded rapidly throughout the mid-1960s. The SDS wanted a participatory democracy, direct action, radicalism and student power, fighting against shoestring budgets and organisational structure.

The 1960s also saw student activism become important in British universities. Here, like many other countries, the Vietnam War and issues of racism became a focus for many other local frustrations, such as fees and student representation.

Heading into the 70s, students began to fight for more involvement in Faculty committees, being the only way that students could influence teaching quality. The largest student strike in American history however, took place in May and June 1970, in response to the Kent State shootings and the American invasion of Cambodia.

The 80s saw a slight decrease in student issues, with campaigners fighting for smaller causes such as better accommodation, lower fees or even canteen prices. The 90s saw students pushing for better education funding and policy or leadership changes that engaged students as decision-makers in universities. Heading into the new decade, students today are worried about similar issues including youth voice, student rights, university funding, anti-racism in education, tuition fee increases, unemployment rates and supporting campus workers.

Students today are also concerned about their status and reputation. University goers are now-a-days seen to be booze-fuelled, promiscuous, tax-dodging bums. Whilst being partly true, this unfair label worries many. What does the future hold for students though? Higher fees still? Perhaps another surge of over-crowding? Maybe a new government is what’s actually needed…?

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