22 SES 10 D, Student Movement and Migration
This is a study (in progress) about the public role of the contemporary university (Fondecyt Regular 1141271). In this paper I analyze the conceptualizations that the Chilean student movement gives to ‘public education’. This paper is also partly based on a chapter ‘Neoliberal discourses and the emergence of an agentic field: the Chilean student movement’ to be published in 2016.
In year 2011 dozens of protests led by university students took place and students were joined by several other sectors of the wider society, around an agenda of free access to the university and an education of quality for everybody (Espinoza & González, 2012) and what they called ‘free public education’. These protests were a result of a series of historical events and facts over the last 40 years, in Chile, and that were linked to neoliberal policies imposed by the Pinochet regime in the ‘80s and ‘90s. These neoliberal policies the private sector, and reduced the role for the state (Guzmán-Valenzuela, 2016). Further, these policies were reinforced by subsequent democratic governments in Chile and a naturalization of the neoliberal discourse in education was introduced (Guzmán-Valenzuela, 2016).
In 2006, during Bachelet’s first period as President, a first explosion of discomfort took place on the part of secondary students who claimed free education, the elimination of for-profit providers and non-inclusive practices, as well as the defence of what they called ‘public education’ (Bellei & Cabalin, 2013). These protests, though, had little impact on public policies (Cabalin, 2012). The public policies implemented by the subsequent right-oriented president (Sebastián Piñera, 2010-2014) generated more discomfort among students. The President promised several measures in order to support students from low income classes but it was widely perceived that these promises were not fulfilled (Espinoza & González, 2013). What is more, policies implemented in higher education distributed public funds to both private and state universities without distinction, and reinforced a loan system for students that bore a high rate of interest (Orellana, 2014).
The combination of these elements created a fertile ground for student protests demanding a ‘free public education’. Slogans such as ‘an end to the commercialization of education’, ‘non-profit education’, ‘public education as a right’, ‘free and quality education for everybody’ became banners of the student movement and Chilean society. As well as prompting a reform agenda that is currently being discussed in parliament (Bernasconi, 2014), this movement has been able to legitimize itself by placing several of its leaders in parliamentary seats.
The Chilean student movement shaped a new discourse that has opposed the marketization of the higher education system. Through these actions, students have sought legitimization and have successfully pressured the current government into initiating legal reforms in the higher education sector. What is not clear, however, is what students understand by ‘public education’. In some cases they associate the ‘public’ with ‘free education’ or with ‘high quality education for everybody’ (implying that everybody should have access to this level of education).
The concept of ‘public’ is fuzzy and it has been defined within diverse disciplines such as economics (Samuelson, 1954), sociology (Burawoy, 2005), philosophy (Habermas, 2010), and political sciences (Hood, 1995). In the last decades, as a consequence of the privatization of the higher education system, the concept of ‘public’ has been analized in relation with universities (Brunner, 2014; Marginson, 2011; Holmwood, 2011; Masschelein, & Simons, 2010; Barnett, 2015; Guzmán-Valenzuela, 2015). In this paper, I analyze these definitions in relation to those adopted by the Chilean student movement.
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