Student leadership & politics seminar

On Tuesday, we’re running a seminar on Student Leadership and Politics at the University of Surrey. Lorenzo Cini, from the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa, and Carolina Guzmán-Valenzuela from the Centre for Advanced Research in Education at the University of Chile, will each be giving a paper on their recent research on student politics (see abstracts below), and Alex MacKenzie-Smith, the current president of the University of Surrey’s Students’ Union, will be acting as a discussant.

The seminar will run from 3-4pm in 32MS01 – and all are welcome to attend. Do come along if you’re interested!

Student Activism in Contemporary Italian Universities


My presentation sheds light on and assesses the strategies that the Italian student activists adopted in order to influence the revision process of the governance structure of their universities in 2011. Which kind of strategy has enabled these activists to influence successfully this process? My argument is that the choice to build a coalition with other actors and/or to promote “institutional activists” (Santoro and McGuire 1997) within the governing boards and committees facilitates the adoption of student demands and, therefore, their influence. The “power of the streets” exerted by the “outsiders,” combined with the institutional power of the “insiders,” produces a significant amplifying effect in the governing bodies. University leaders fear this kind of alliance, as they perceive that insiders with a strong tie with other actors are the expression of a collective voice that is difficult to neutralize. These insiders act on the behalf of a collective group, which supports them politically and physically in the confrontation with the university management. On the other hand, the outsiders are also aware that their collective strength is more likely to be translated into institutional power and action from their allies and/or representatives.

Biographical note:

Lorenzo Cini is a current research fellow at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa. He has a PhD degree in Social and Political Sciences from the European University Institute of Florence, conducting his research on the contentious politics of higher education in Italy and England. More notably, he investigated the array of university mobilizations emerged in England and Italy in opposition to the recent neoliberal reforms on higher education. On this topic, he has published several articles and chapter contributions in edited volumes and journals. Over the past five years, he has also carried out research in the field of political philosophy and theory by working on the concepts of democracy, justice and equality. On these topics, he recently published the book, Civil Society and Radical Democracy (2012), and, in collaboration with Professor Brunella Casalini, the volume of political philosophy on Justice, Equality, and Difference. A Guide to the Reading of Contemporary Political Philosophy (2012).

The Chilean university student movement as an expression of student leadership: challenges for the future


In Chile, during the 70s and the 80s, the Pinochet regime adopted a neoliberal approach that undermined the role of state in all sort of public policies, including education (Taylor, 2002). Particularly, in higher education this kind of approach promoted the privatization of the system and students became customers having to pay a high cost for their education, usually by getting into debt. Although the democratic system returned in the 90s, public policies implemented by subsequent governments (most of them left-oriented) reinforced this model. It was not until 2011 when the first signs of unrest appeared among citizens and university students took on a decisive leadership role to challenge the state of things. In doing so, students protested in the streets for several years and used mass media and technologies to promote their ‘quality public education for everybody’ banner. They have also been able to obtain several parliamentary seats for former student leaders, and prompt a reform agenda in higher education that is currently in the parliament. As a result, the student movement has become an agentic field in its own right (Guzmán-Valenzuela, 2017). In this presentation, I analyse the Chilean student movement identifying forms of both individual and collective leadership.

Biographical note:

Dr. Carolina Guzmán-Valenzuela is a researcher at the Centre for Advanced Research in Education at the University of Chile. She conducts research in the field of higher education with a particular interest in the impact of neoliberal regimes on the contemporary university.  She has won national research grants and collaborates with different research international networks in higher education. She has published in leading journals and books on topics such as academic identity, the public role of universities and teaching practices. She also works in the theorization of the use of qualitative methodologies in education.

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