Student activism across the globe

24169841002_0322f895f2The rise of student activism over the past decade

As media reports across the world have attested, since the turn of the 21st century, we have witnessed a significant increase in the number of student protests across the globe. The most high-profile of these have been in Germany (from 2008-13), California (2009), the UK (2010), Chile (2010-13) and Canada (2010-13). Such activity raises important questions about assumptions have been made, by some social commentators and politicians, about the political apathy of the young and the de-politicisation of universities. While there is plenty of evidence that, despite a relative lack of engagement in electoral politics in many countries, students and other young people have remained politically active, the rise in student activism over the past decade or so may well be related to young people’s frustration with formal politics. Certainly, numerous studies have shown that young people do have an interest in formal politics, but believe that their interests are rarely served by mainstream political parties and that electoral systems are often outdated.

How similar are these movements?

In many ways, the student protests of the 21st century have much in common. A number have shared an opposition to the further rolling-out of market reforms in higher education – particularly in relation to the introduction of (or increase in) tuition fees, and the repositioning of higher education as a private good rather than a public one. Where students have become heavily involved in wider movements, these have also often arisen in response to the intensification of neo-liberal reform. However, students have also been prepared to take action for other causes, too. In Hong Kong, for example, students were key players in the pro-democracy movement of 2014 – boycotting classes and taking part in wider acts of civil disobedience to voice their concerns about the delays to democratic reform and call for an open selection process to decide on the candidates for the territory’s leader.

It has been argued that the student protests of the last decade can been seen as, to some extent, globalised – because of the ways in which they have influenced each other, and the importance of border-less technology in facilitating much of this action. This can be seen, for example, in the way in which the Twitter hashtags #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall stimulated protest across Africa and beyond, and the links between the student protestors in Hong Kong and their counterparts in Taiwan. New technologies were also important in the 2010 UK protests against fee increases, allowing students occupying university buildings to keep in touch with those engaged in similar activities at other institutions.

However, it is also clear that, despite the undoubted importance of new technologies in facilitating communication between student activists and across national borders, the nation-state continues to exert an important influence on the nature and focus of protest.  Student protests in Turkey, for example, as part of the Gezi Park resistance in 2013, were largely against what those involved perceived to be the conservative and paternalistic nature of their national government, rather than any concern about marketisation. Moreover, the nature of student activism across Africa has been influenced strongly by national-level factors such as the extent to which the state has created structures to allow students to become formally involved in policy-making.

What impact have these movements had?

The nation-state has also had a significant impact on the impact of student movements. Such protests can be seen to have brought about significant change in some countries – for example, Chile, Germany and Quebec in Canada. In Chile, this change has been far-reaching, and extended beyond higher education into other areas of social and political life. In other countries, such as the UK, student protests have been much less successful in bringing about change. In attempting to explain the differential impact of these protests, some researchers (such as Manja Klemenčič) have suggested that broad political norms are important. According to this perspective, student protests in the UK were unsuccessful largely because the government believed that students were not representative of wider public opinion, and that the population at large was broadly sympathetic to the introduction of further market-based reform.

Other scholars (such as Lorenzo Cini) have suggested that we need to look more closely at the specific structures of higher education systems. Research that has explored the different ways in which student protests have been treated in the UK and Italy, for example, has demonstrated how variation in governance can be significant. In Italy, university leaders are elected from among the professoriate and need to sustain good relationships with students in order to maintain their institutional position. Thus, they are likely to favour negotiation and compromise over more adversarial responses. In contrast, in the UK, university leaders are appointed through open competition. They are less reliant on the goodwill of students than their Italian counterparts and thus seek to minimise what they perceive to be the ‘reputational damage’ to their institution brought about by student protest through more repressive and confrontational tactics.

Nevertheless, our knowledge about why some student protests are more successful than others is still partial. Despite the frequency of student protests since the turn of the 21st century, and the significant media attention that has followed, further research is still very much needed in this area.


This blogpost originally appeared on the University World News website. It draws on ideas that are discussed more fully in Student Politics and Protest: International Perspectives, which will be published by Routledge and the Society for Research into Higher Education in the autumn.

Fathers sought for new research project

fathersAre you a father in a heterosexual dual-parent household in the UK who is the primary carer or who shares care equally with your partner for a child aged three or under?

We are carrying out research at the University of Surrey on the experiences of fathers who take on primary or equal caring responsibility for young children.

We are particularly interested in those whose caring responsibilities connect to changes to work (whether voluntary or enforced), such as periods of extended parental leave, adjusted hours, working flexibly or part-time, changing job or becoming unemployed. However, we also hope to speak to those taking on primary or equal care responsibilities alongside existing full-time work.

If you think you, your partner, or someone you know might come into this category and would be willing to take part in an interview with us, please contact us at to find out more. The identity of participants will be kept confidential.

Rachel Brooks and Paul Hodkinson, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey

Research fellow posts

Post-doctoral Research Fellows (2 positions – both are 5 year posts, starting on 1st August 2016)

Salary: up to £33,574 per year

I am pleased to advertise two research fellows to join my five-year ‘EuroStudents’ project, funded by the European Research Council (see here for further details). The project will explore the different ways in which higher education students are constructed across six European nations. Both posts will be based in the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey.

The first research fellow post will be responsible for the strand of work that focuses on institutional perspectives, i.e. the ways in which the higher education student is constructed through official university texts and staff understandings. S/he will be required to: liaise with relevant gatekeepers to secure access to research sites across six European countries; analyse websites and other public documents produced by universities (using both qualitative and quantitative methods); conduct and analyse interviews with members of university staff; and contribute to the analysis of data and dissemination of findings from the project as a whole.

The second post will be responsible for the strand of work that focuses on student perspectives. S/he will be required to: liaise with relevant gatekeepers to secure access to research sites across six European countries; conduct focus groups with students in three universities in each of the six countries; and contribute to the analysis of data and dissemination of findings from the project as a whole.

The successful candidates will have a doctorate in a relevant topic area, and experience of using relevant research methods. They will also have excellent organisation and communication skills and, ideally, knowledge of one or more of the languages covered by the project (in addition to English): Danish, German, Polish and Spanish. A willingness to travel abroad for a substantial proportion of the fieldwork is essential.

For informal inquiries contact me:

Closing date: 5pm, 6th June 2016

Interviews: 20th June 2016

Start date: 1st August 2016 (or as soon as possible thereafter)

Further details about the first post and the online application form can be found here, and details and the application form for the second post can be found here. (Please do apply for both posts, if you are interested in both.)

PhD studentship

downloadMedia Representations of Higher Education Students: a cross-national comparison

Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Surrey

I am very pleased to be advertising a PhD studentship on ‘Media Representations of Higher Education Students’. This forms part of a wider project (called EuroStudents) funded by the European Research Council, which will explore the different ways in which higher education students are constructed across six European nations.

The PhD studentship comprises two strands of work. Firstly, representations of students within newspapers in the six countries will be analysed. A content analysis will be conducted for two national newspapers from each of the countries involved in the research (Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain). A broadly representative sub-sample of texts will then be chosen for further, detailed discursive analysis. In the second strand, two popular film or drama-based television programmes that feature students will be selected from each country and analysed using a discursive approach. Comparisons will be made within each country, across all six countries, and then in relation to the results of the analysis of news media.

The successful candidate will be part of the EuroStudents research team and also the vibrant research community within the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey. Further information about the research project can be found here.


The 3-year studentship is funded by the European Research Council. It covers Home/EU tuition fees and a maintenance grant of £14,057 per annum.

Entry requirements


Masters level degree in Sociology, Education, Media, Human Geography or a related subject

Experience of media analysis

Excellent oral and written communication skills


Knowledge of issues related to higher education

Knowledge of one of more languages covered by the project, in addition to English (i.e. Danish, German, Polish, Spanish)

Familiarity with one or more of the countries outside the UK involved in the research (i.e. Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Spain)


To apply, please send:

1. A covering letter highlighting: (i) why you are interested in this particular research project; (ii) why you are interested in doing a PhD; (iii) which specific skills and aptitudes you feel you would bring to the project.

2. A copy of your current CV including the names of two referees and the marks you have received for your master’s modules to date. (Please feel free to include a transcript of your marks, alongside your CV, if this is easier.)

3. A sample of your academic writing (e.g. an essay or dissertation).

These should be sent by email to Rachel Brooks: Please also contact Rachel for any queries you may have associated with this studentship.

Closing date: 5pm, 27th May 2016

Interview date: to be confirmed

Start date: 26th September 2016

How much mixing goes on in universities?

On Friday, I am looking forward to acting as a discussant at an event run by Sumi Hollingworth, to disseminate the findings from her recent research on social mixing within higher education institutions. In case you’re interested in coming along, I’ve pasted some details from the seminar flyer below, and you can sign up here.

Join us at this event where the findings of a research project on student friendships in Higher Education will be presented. Specifically, the research is interested in the extent of mixing across both social and ethnic difference, drawing on qualitative in-depth interviews with first year undergraduates, in one case study university. A panel discussion will broaden out to discuss the implications for Higher Education more broadly, and the possibilities for social mobility through the ‘university experience’.

This research, led by Dr. Sumi Hollingworth, Senior Research Fellow at the Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research, assisted by Nicole Lucas, was supported by a small grant from the Society for Educational Studies.


12.00pm – 1.00pm Presentation of research findings

Sumi Hollingworth, Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research, London South Bank University

Researcher on social mixing in urban multicultural contexts; class race and gender inequalities in education

1.00 – 2.30pm Panel discussion of research findings

Panellists include:

Nicola Ingram, University of Lancaster (Researcher on the ‘Paired Peers’ project, which focuses on the experiences of working-class and middle-class young people as they make their way through undergraduate programs at two different universities in the same city)

Rachel Brooks, University of Surrey (Researches widely on student friendships and social network; internationalisation and student mobility; and Students Unions)

Debbie Weekes-Bernard, Runnymede Trust

A representative from the NUS Committee


Call for papers: Eurostudents launch seminar



Wednesday, 21st September 2016, University of Surrey

Keynote speakers: Anna Mountford-Zimdars (King’s College London) and Michael Tomlinson (University of Southampton)

There is some evidence that, at least within countries with neo-liberal welfare regimes, students are constructed largely as consumers with contemporary policy texts. However, there is less consensus about whether or not students have taken up such an identity. Some scholars have assumed that this construction of student-as-consumer is having a profound effect on how students themselves approach HE. Indeed, Molesworth et al. (2009) contend that the inculcation of a consumer identity has brought about a more passive approach to learning, in which students place much more emphasis on their rights rather than their responsibilities, and on having a degree rather than being a learner. Others have, however, argued that, despite the increasing recourse to the language of economics in policy documents (in which students are positioned as consumers and universities as providers), in practice, the behaviour of students does not conform to this model (Dodds, 2011; Williams, 2013). Moreover, research has suggested that such identities may be differentiated by socio-economic characteristics, with only more affluent groups having the capacity to ‘shop around’, unencumbered by financial concerns or the ‘identity risks’ of moving away from home.

This one-day seminar will provide an opportunity to explore our current understandings of the contemporary higher education student, and the extent to which they are shaped by, for example, policymakers, the media, higher education staff and students themselves. Papers may focus on one or more of the following: the impact of tuition fees on understandings of what it means to be a student; students as consumers; media representations of students; students as political actors; policymakers’ understandings of students; and cross-national comparisons. However, other topics, relevant to the seminar theme, are also welcome.

Abstract Submission: Please send abstracts of up to 250 words by 13th May 2016 to Rachel Brooks at the University of Surrey: (There will be a small charge of £30 for attending the seminar.) You can book your place here.

Seminar Organisers: The seminar is organised by Rachel Brooks and colleagues in the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey. It will help to launch the five-year EuroStudents research project based at Surrey, which investigates understandings of the higher education student across six different European countries.

downloadsurrey logo

What should education look like in the future?

‘Thinking the yet to be thought: Education for the future’

What should education look like in the future?

Traditional? Classical? Technology-focussed? Entirely optional? Schools in the Cloud? Global universities? Homeschooling? Entirely vocational? Predominantly online? Skills-based? Project-based? De-schooling? Freeschooling? Democratic? Radical? As it is now? What?

Our sixth ESRC seminar series event, to be held in Cardiff on 5thF2L1F2L2 July will focus on the question of what ‘education for the future’ should look like.

We recognise that there are a wide variety of opinions on this, and therefore, we offer participants the chance to pitch arguments and persuade the audience.

We are looking for pitches of up to 15 minutes. These can take any format, including formal presentation, soap-box style, demonstration, speeches, or anything else.  We welcome all views, including provocative ones. The aim of the pitches should be to engage the audience and to make us think differently about education. ‘Education’ can refer to schools, colleges, universities, adult education, informal learning, community work.

Please send an abstract/summary of up to 200 words. We will choose a good range of pitches from these so as to make for a lively event.

Abstracts to be sent to or by Tuesday 31 May 2016.

Call for papers: Autonomous and alternative pedagogies for a socially just education

Special Issue of ‘Forum’: Freedom to Learn: autonomous and alternative pedagogies for a socially just education

Special issue editors: Dr Max Hope and Professor Catherine Montgomery, University of Hull

This proposal for a specialFreedom to Learn issue of FORUM Journal invites written contributions which explore the idea of a socially just education system focusing on how such a system might address inequalities in society. The issue will explore alternative and innovative examples and ideas from schools and universities across a range of countries (including Denmark and the USA) and consider whether these alternatives may illuminate approaches to reducing social and educational inequality.

Political, organisational and cultural pressures make it challenging for people to consider alternatives to the mainstream. The special issue will encourage its readers to reflect on their own educational assumptions, practices, and systems so as to be open to possibilities of doing things differently. In order to challenge current thinking as much as possible, the issue will invite contributors who are able to focus attention on radical alternatives in education. Both researchers and practitioners focusing on innovative and new ways of operating will be encouraged to contribute. These examples are not being showcased as ideal models to emulate but as a means of envisioning alternatives to the systems that dominate in society. By doing this, the issue will stimulate ideas and discussion around ways that have ‘yet to be thought’, to transform education for the future.

It is hoped that the alternative examples presented may offer an insight into how to improve education for all. Contributions will be expected to centre on the characteristics of a socially just education system and consider how new perspectives on social justice in education might enable social inequalities to be addressed, exploring these possibilities against the current performative and neo-liberal educational context of 2016. Thus articles which centre on the issue of enhancing social justice accompanied by a critical questioning of contemporary political narratives will be particularly welcomed.

The issue aims to be cross-sectoral, covering opinions and research around both pre-school, school and post 18 provision, drawing together a combination of contributions from both eminent international researchers and practitioners working in different fields. FORUM’s remit is 3-19 education, so the Special Issue will aim to include written pieces which focus on Early Years Foundation Stage, and pre-statutory provision as well as secondary and post-secondary education.  Formats will be flexible and papers will be welcomed from academics involved in research, school and university practitioners and policy makers and other community groups. The journal’s audience includes practitioners as well as academics and policy-makers and thus a broadly-accessible writing-style is welcomed.

FORUM has a long history dating back almost 60 years and during that time has been publishing topical and informed analysis – very often highly forthright and critical – of all aspects of United Kingdom government policy as it influences the education of children from primary through to higher education. FORUM vigorously campaigns for the universal provision of state-provided education. Contributions are not drawn only from the familiar sources in universities and colleges, but also in large numbers from teachers, writing of their own experiences in the classroom.

How to contribute

The special issue will consist of a combination of invited submissions and an open call for papers.

If you would like to contribute to the special issue you should send an abstract of no more than 300 words to and no later than Friday 15th April 2016. There will be an editorial review process and the timeline is as follows:

Submission of abstracts: deadline 15 April 2016

Submission of full papers: deadline 27 May 2016

Final draft (following editorial review): deadline 15 June 2016

Publication of special issue: Due Autumn 2016

Student Politics and Protest: International Perspectives

22351108924_d963009ff0I have recently sent off the final manuscript for Student Politics and Protest: International Perspectives, which will be published in the Routledge/SRHE series later on this year (probably mid-October). Thanks to all the contributing authors – putting the collection together was a very enjoyable process. I am hoping to put together a symposium at the SRHE annual conference in December to discuss some of the ideas contained in the book.

Here is the table of contents:

Chapter 1. Student Politics and Protest: an Introduction (Rachel Brooks, University of Surrey, UK)

Chapter 2. Campaigning for a Movement: Collective Identity and Student Solidarity in the 2010/11 UK Protests against Fees and Cuts (Alexander Hensby, University of Kent, UK)

Chapter 3. Student Struggles and Power Relations in Contemporary Universities. The Cases of Italy and England (Lorenzo Cini, European University Institute, Florence, Italy)

Chapter 4. Neoliberal Discourses and the Emergence of an Agentic Field: the Chilean Student Movement (Carolina Guzman Valenzuela, University of Chile, Chile)

Chapter 5. Affinities and Barricades. A Comparative Analysis of Student Organizing in Quebec and the USA (Rushdia Mehreen and Ryan Thomson, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA)

Chapter 6. Student Politics and the Value(s) of Public Welfare (Gritt Nielsen, Aarhus University, Denmark)

Chapter 7. The Politics of Higher Education Funding in the UK Student Movement 1996-2010 (Debbie McVitty, University of Bedfordshire, UK)

Chapter 8. Student Power in 21st Century Africa: The Character and Role of Student Organising (Thierry Luescher, University of the Free State, South Africa, and Manja Klemenčič, Harvard University, USA)

Chapter 9. Student Associations: The New Zealand Experience (Sylvia Nissen and Bronwyn Hayward, University of Canterbury, New Zealand)

Chapter 10. ‘If not now, then when? If not us, who?’ Understanding the Student Protest Movement in Hong Kong (Bruce Macfarlane, University of Southampton, UK)

Chapter 11. Student Mobilization during Turkey’s Gezi Resistance: From the Politics of Change to the Politics of Lifestyle (Begüm Uzun, University of Toronto, Canada)

Chapter 12. Network Formation in Student Political Worlds (Joseph Ibrahim, Leeds Beckett University, UK and Nick Crossley, University of Manchester, UK)

Chapter 13. Conclusion (Rachel Brooks, University of Surrey, UK)