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Italian Students Fight Education Reforms

Students throughout Italy demonstrated last week on college campuses and around some of the nation's most recognizable tourist attractions to protest cuts to public education. The situations in Europe and California share similar causes and reactions, reports The Daily Bruin.

Like in California, I hear no alternative plans for European governments to get money to their public university systems.

By Jake Greenberg for The Daily Bruin student newspaper

University campuses in California, the United Kingdom and now Italy are buzzing with anxiety over the future of public education.

Students throughout Italy demonstrated last week on college campuses and around some of the nation’s most recognizable tourist attractions to protest cuts to public education that include cuts in spending and time limits on government funding for university research.

According to The Associated Press, protests took place outside the Leaning Tower of Pisa, where students created a human chain to prevent tourists from entering the monument and hung banners from the top. At the Colosseum in Rome, students chanted “No profits off our future” within and around the building.

The Italian government’s decision to cut funding to education is demonstrative of a conservative phase currently popular in European politics, said Susanne Lohmann, a UCLA professor of political science who specializes in European education.

“What we are seeing is the election of political parties that are promising to reduce national spending and the size of government,” she said. “In several European countries, including Germany, Britain and Italy, education is taking a hit, but it is not the only area being reduced.”

The situations in Europe and California share similar causes and reactions, Lohmann added.

“Both California and Europe are trying to reduce a growing debt, which is exacerbated by an aging Baby Boomer generation,” she said. “The solution is either to raise taxes or cut funding for certain programs, neither of which is going to be particularly popular.”

The education reforms will cut spending and set a time limit on government funding for university research.

In a statement released by Italian student protesters and translated into English, protesters said the demonstrations would escalate as long as the reforms stand.

According to the statement, the demonstrations are meant to rebel against supposedly draconian cuts that negatively affect students’ futures, and they will move on to occupying and protesting in train stations, airports, university campuses and other public areas.

The Italian situation has parallels in the current situation in California, and demands a better solution than simply cutting off all funding, said Claudia Magana, a third-year political science and sociology student at UC Santa Cruz and president of the University of California Student Association.

“Like in California, I hear no alternative plans for European governments to get money to their public university systems,” she said. “There are currently only very extreme solutions in both California and Europe: either double or triple the prices to attend, or cut funding all together.”

The student protests in Britain, Italy and California are all based on students’ frustration with their governments’ approaches, Magana said.

“It’s time we have a more creative way of funding education,” she said. “A way that doesn’t call for such extreme tactics will not bring out such an extreme response.”

UCLA International Institute