December 2011        

Attacks on education in Greece and Chile

Naomi Klein in her thought-provoking book The Shock Doctrine clearly shows how in times of financial crisis the right uses this time to attack fundamental freedoms that we take for granted. Yet again this philosophy has raised its ugly head in relation to the education sector, and I will summarise two countries that at present are under pressure from right-wing forces.
     On 25 November, 20,000 students marched through Santiago in favour of public, secular, non-sexist education. The president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, like many other governments in Latin America and globally, continues to insist that education must be governed by market forces. Protesters, while fighting for education, want education that enables them to think critically and speak out about what affects them.
     Many thousands of miles away, our Greek friends are fighting a rearguard action in protecting their much-valued education system. Under pressure from the vultures in the IMF, the Greek Government brought in an “international committee” to asses the Greek university sector. Unfortunately, this is being led by none other Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California at Davis. This particular college is where the police on 18 November last baton-charged and pepper-sprayed hundreds of students, causing an outrage.
     The international committee was obviously dominated by academics who not only have openly endorsed the strategy of a neo-liberal corporate university but also have been more than active in designing and implementing such strategies and corporate academic management practices. That is why the report declares “entrepreneurship” a core value for higher education today.
     Greece was one of the few countries where students play an active role in how their universities are run. Legislation has now been passed in the Greek parliament that has been strongly condemned by students, academics, almost all Greek university senates, and the Council of Greek University Rectors.
     This continued onslaught by the neo-liberals on the education sector leaves a frightening prospect, whereby market forces are controlling the agenda in the wider education area—an agenda that we in Ireland are all too familiar with.

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