Student Movements: Fighting for Education and Social Change

By Francisco Peyret

As we celebrate World University Students’ Day on May 23, we must recognize that student movements have been a driving force in the fight for quality education and the defense of student rights around the world. From the historic demonstrations in Mexico, France, and much of Europe in 1968, to the recent mobilizations in Latin America and the United States, students have raised their voices to demand significant changes in the educational system and in society in general.

In Mexico, as a result of the 1968 movement, new spaces were opened, and universities and public schools took different approaches. But years later, especially during the 1980s, public education became constrained by budgets, and their reputation was questioned. Businesses gave preference to private school graduates over public school graduates creating a boom in private schools. These began to occupy the spaces left by free education. With time, and as a consequence of the global economy, university education is becoming unaffordable for many families and young people. Public universities have recovered their enrollment, but this was insufficient. In many countries, exorbitant tuition fees have left many students without access to quality education.

Faced with this situation, new student movements have emerged. They are putting pressure on governments and educational institutions to reduce fees and establish policies that guarantee a more accessible education for all. Prominent examples include the massive student protests in Chile in 2011, known as the «Movimiento Estudiantil Chileno» (Chilean Student Movement), which made significant progress on education reform.

Another key demand of the student movements is the search for a more equitable and inclusive education. Students have fought to remove barriers that prevent access to education for those of low-income, ethnic minorities, and marginalized groups. These movements have highlighted the importance of addressing systemic inequalities and promoting policies that ensure equal educational opportunities for all. In countries like South Africa, students have mobilized around the slogan «Fees Must Fall,” demanding free and quality education for all citizens.

In addition to the fight for education, student movements have addressed broader issues of social change. They have demonstrated their ability to influence political and social debates, speaking out against injustice and oppression. A prominent example is the “March for Our Lives” movement in the United States. It is led by students demanding greater gun control and school safety after the tragic 2018 Parkland High School shooting. In Europe, students have played a leading role in defending public education and in opposing austerity policies that threaten to reduce investment in education. In Africa, students have led protests in countries like Nigeria, demanding quality education and denouncing corruption in the education sector.

The arrival of Artificial Intelligence threatens the very existence of university and technical careers. There is talk of a 47% loss of careers in many areas, according to studies from the University of Cambridge. University students will surely face new challenges, education models will change, and the assimilation of knowledge will be transformed. We are at the dawn of an era of changes that will surely shake the entire planet.