Freedom News

University asylum, campus cops and student struggles in Europe

Anarchist students consider New Democracy’s intervention in Greek universities in the broader context of an EU-wide remaking of education along neoliberal lines. This is the second of a two-part series: Part one, Greek Cops Out of our Universities! is here.

This article is an analysis of educational restructuring, the violation and attempt to abolish asylum in universities and the installation of “campus cops.” Beyond the Greek State’s pre-emptive counter-insurgency, we see an absolutely unified plan, at least for the European university system. Since the end of the 1990s we have seen a concerted effort by European States to change the character of the university, the consequences of which we are witnessing today.

Supranational agreements, and the centre’s domination in neoliberal universities

With participation in transnational organisations the concept of borders begins to break down at the local level, as it is undermined by the domination of the centre over the periphery.

The process of capitalist reconstruction begins with the birth of neoliberalism, i.e. the construction of the basic political and economic conditions that would lead to the deconstruction of the social-democratic consensus and the construction of neoliberal impositions.

The neoliberal process finds, at the most critical moment of its development, a temporary justification on the one hand, but also a new great perspective for capitalism of deepening exploitation on the other, and a path of development that would lead to the irreversible – as it is believed – global imposition of the capitalist system. The event that provides these guarantees for capitalism is none other than the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

The justification of neoliberalism lies in the fact that it now perceives itself as the sole system of economic constitution and management, while the dissolution of the USSR is a good occasion for the – long-ready – social democrats to politically identify with neoliberalism on the basis the latter in inevitable, omnipotent. So much for the political sphere. But this is not enough to reduce neoliberalism to an imperial/universal doctrine. It is the exploitation of the vacuum left by the dissolution of the USSR that will give it that title. The globalisation of the capitalist world. We are of course talking about the old art of colonising physical space and all political-economic relations, correlations and factors that have been formed within it (social needs, natural resources, people, etc).

One of the consequences of the expansion of neoliberalism has been the geopolitical restructuring of education as another sphere of life, appropriated by capital internationally. This expansion builds “territories” and “zones” in which there is greater commodification and exchange of “educational units” on behalf of transnational market programmes. Modern educational structures are bases for the reproduction of capital, and laboratories for the production of market knowledge. The consequences of this process are multiple and as intertwined as capital and nation, exposing both as common partners in the “knowledge economy” project.

The consequences of this structure reverberate globally with common problems – lack of access to education, loss of homes due to student debt, and even an increase in police forces on campuses to meet its repressive needs. Of course these measures have brought resistance. In Europe there have been protests against the Bologna Process reforms, in the US against high tuition fees and public money cuts. In Latin America people have fought against the exclusion of the poor from access to higher education and even stronger were the grandiose mobilisations in Quebec, with student loan payment strikes and flagship student union organising.

The common elements in these global issues are part of a complex system, the building of a knowledge economy as a supposed solution to a failed global capitalist order.

On the way to Bologna … the EU’s first transnational agreements 

Within the European Union, the tone was set by the Magna Charta Universitatum in Bologna in 1988. It brought together the rectors of European universities, now 430 strong, who advocate for the need for student and faculty mobility, general cooperation between universities and much more for an exchange of documents, titles and examinations. This was followed by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which was itself a forerunner of the White Paper of ’93, promoting convergence between Member States and the need for greater participation of private capital in education and training systems, in order to meet market needs. It represented the political organisation of education, and a strengthening of business cooperation with education systems. This was followed by a second White Paper in 1995, which promoted “financial flexibility” for universities and encouraged the search for new forms of education funding.

In 1998, 910 years after the birth of the University of Bologna in the historic registry office, the Sorbonne Declaration was issued, following a meeting of the French, British, German and Italian ministers of education, to discuss the vision of a unified education system. It introduced a series of ideas that a year later, in 1999, saw the Bologna Declaration signed by the education ministers of 29 European countries. The key points of this treaty were:

  • “Adoption of a system that will be based on two courses, one undergraduate (lasting at least three years) and one postgraduate. The first cycle degree will be recognised in the European labour market as a competent professional qualification, while the second cycle should lead to a postgraduate and / or doctoral degree
  • Establishment of a system of credits type European System of Transfer of Credits (ECTS = European Credit Transfer System), for the “promotion of the widest possible mobility of students” and the comparability of degrees. According to this standard, a full year of academic study corresponds to 60 points in the ECTS system, these credits are divided per course. Also, as pointed out, Credits can also be gathered outside the framework of Higher Education.
  • Promotion of the “necessary European dimensions” in Higher Education, mainly in terms of curricula, cooperation between institutions, mobility, as well as “integrated curricula and training, training-education and research.”

In the decade 2000-2010 that followed across a number of countries of the European Union, student movements broke out in opposition to the transformation of higher education systems which was being attempted in each country, separately but as commonly agreed through the Bologna Declaration and then renewed with regular sessions and agreements. Typically, in 2003 a meeting of education ministers was held in Berlin with the intention of accelerating implementation of the restructuring on the horizon, not in 2010, but in 2005.

Libertarian education as an imperative value: To defend the public outside and beyond the State.

“Education today means taming, educating, taming. It has a single very specific idea and will to make children accustomed to obedience to believe and think in obedience to the prevailing social dogmas. It is not interested in supporting the spontaneous development of the child’s abilities, it does not let the child develop his natural needs, spiritual and moral. It is only to impose a different thinking on them so that the present regime is maintained forever; it wants to create a person closely adapted to the social mechanism.”

~ F. Ferrer, anarchist pedagogue and founder of the “Modern School” in Barcelona

As anarchists we are against both private and State universities, as we seek a university free from outside interference, organised by society itself, reflecting its needs and desires. We want a public university that does not conform to the demands of the labour market and does not serve the interests of the State.

It is important at this point to redefine the concept of ‘public’, as it is nowadays directly associated with the State. The public, social university that we envision is one that is shaped according to social needs, one that provides objective and impartial knowledge – knowledge that is not directed by someone higher but by the very people who acquire it, who transmit it, who transform it into action, who experience its consequences. Knowledge, not fragmentary and specialised, but total and life-giving, capable of sharpening people’s critical thinking and not just of shaping it in a way that is appropriate to integrate them into the labor market while blunting their potential aspirations for radicalisation, thus perpetuating the dominant ideology.

We advocate a libertarian education based on mutual aid, solidarity, creativity and diversity. In the context of the libertarian education that we advocate, the learner is projected as a subject of the educational process and can directly contribute to its reconfiguration in order to harmonise it with their interests. It is, in fact, about self-management of learning and self-regulation of the curriculum, so that homogeneous packages of knowledge are not imposed on people and therefore individuals are not formed with the same perceptions. Thus, the individual learns something because they really want to learn, and this learning is achieved through an interaction with their teachers and fellow students. In conclusion, we propose a process of co-construction of the educational content by those involved with it, and as far as the educational process is concerned, we believe that it is achieved through interaction and practice rather than passive memorising of facts.

We are travelling on roads that were marked by the mass student mobilisations of the past, such as those of 1990-’91 against the Kontagiannopoulou law [Nb: A piece of radical-right legislation submitted by former education minister Vassilis Kontogiannopoulos], which succeeded in preventing this law and forced the minister’s resignation, those of 2006-’07 with the revision of article 16, etc. Undoubtedly, we also keep as a legacy the struggle of last year with its occupation of the rectorate and mass marches, and we continue to fight against the evangelising of a completely sterile university system adapted to “European standards.”  

We defend university asylum, we seek a libertarian education through occupations, strikes, forms, associations. We oppose guild logics and put forward demands that are more substantial and comprehensive, having as our primary objective the uprooting of the capitalist system and the State, knowing that they determine, according to their interests, the content of education and the way it is taught, in order to seal their survival and further increase their strength.

~ Quieta Movere

Pic provided by authors

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