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Italy: teachers and students protest over cuts in 90 cities

Italian students staged demonstrations Friday in 90 cities to protest against ‘the sale of public schools and destruction of universities’ in action that coincided with a national teachers’ strike.

‘We are demonstrating to state our total opposition to the draft law 953 which would scrap students’ representatives in school boards and would enable private companies to enter our schools,’ said Roberto Campanelli, national coordinator of the Unione studenti, in a statement ahead of the protests.

Another measure opposed by students, said Luca Spadon, the national spokesperson of the activists’ ‘Link Coordinamento universitario’ is the ‘rise of fees for students who have not completed their university studies in time and lowering scholarships, dramatic measures which will not allow many to go to university’.

Demonstrations were set to place all day in all of Italy’s main squares ‘to highlight to the country the dramatic situation suffered by students who have been hit by the crisis in an unprecedented way and who want to change schools and universities in a democratic process’, said the statement of the students’ union.

Students marching in Turin carried a banner directed at the education minister that read ‘Profumo, king of sticks.’ They also threw carrots at the regional education office with two sacks were emptied in front of the the building and more carrots stuffed into the doors.

‘Profumo told us that with students you had to use the carrot and the stick. Last time they used the stick against us,’ the student protestors, in reference to their brutal treatment at the hands of the police during mass nationwide demonstrations on October 5 that left 20 students injured. ‘Today we are responding with carrots.’

The government of unelected former Goldman Sachs advisor Mario Monti has just hacked another 200 million euros off the education budget.

Teachers, called out today by the CGIL union, are also protesting against proposals to increase teaching hours and want thousands of teaching staff on ‘precarious’ job contracts given permanent employment.

Although an extremely wealthy country, Italy has long neglected state education and successive rounds of spending cuts have added to the problems facing schools and universities. This includes the state of the buildings, with one recent study finding more than 20% of Italian schools were not safe.

€8 billion has been axed from education spending since 2008 with 120,000 teachers laid off, according to trade unions.

Higher education spending has been cut by a €1 billion over the past three years and overcrowding is a major problem at dozens of institutions: on average, the ratio at Italian universities is 19.5 students per teacher, compared to an average of 15.4 students per teacher for other EU member states.

The number of academic staff and researchers has decreased from 64,000 to 54,000, making Italy a laggard in the EU despite government claims that it wants Italy to become boost hi-tech and knowledge industries.

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