As Young Academic political correspondent Robert Gant reports, the threat of more mass student demonstrations in Chile is a timely reminder of an issue that is very relevant to UK students; the privatisation of education. Young Academic will be bringing students education news throughout the summer months, look out for some exclusive campus profiles and the Ultimate Festival Guide.
During the middle of June this year Chilean society was rocked by huge street protests by Chilean students demanding an end to privatisation of education in Chile. Over 75,000 students took to the streets of the capital Santiago in what was described as the biggest protests since the end of General Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1990.
In scenes similar to the student protests in this country last winter, there was some violence with police and student organisers blaming each for the escalation from peaceful to violent demonstration.
Chile’s University Students Federation has threatened more street protests while demanding major reforms to the education system are implemented.
The education system in Chile is very different to that of the education system in the United Kingdom. Roughly 80% of all Chilean students attend private, for-profit universities while state run educational facilities are under-funded and overlooked by the government.
In the United Kingdom the number of students attending any kind of private educational institution is far lower than 80% but the privatisation of education is a growing issue in this country. From the creation of Academy schools to tuition fees and the protests that followed the decision by the coalition government to increase fees; the term ‘privatisation of education’ has been creeping into media reports over the last few years.
The announcement of a private, £18,000 a year University in London earlier this year put many education observers on high alert. The New College of Humanities, driven by heavy weight academics such as Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling and Niall Ferguson is an obviously elitist institution, interested only in wealthy students from privileged backgrounds.
It is essentially a cornerstone in the creation of an education system backed by private financers, charging large sums and selecting their students from a restricted pool of undergraduates.
The main worry for analysts is that it will create, or perhaps more accurately increase the divide between the working classes and upper classes in terms of education, which undoubtedly leads to a further wealth gap in society.
There is an argument that the privatisation of universities is something the Conservative Party have been intending to implement since the ‘White Paper’ on higher education became the government vehicle to drive through higher tuition fees. The government argue they are making the system fairer for all while improving standards. All the major student and teaching unions and groups reject this explanation outright.
While this country’s students may be some way from the situation faced by the Chilean students who are taking to the streets, the privatisation of education is something that the NUS will be keen to counter. It is also something that many ordinary young people in this country will look at with a depressed sense of gloom.