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Youth Advocacy, #FeesMustFall and New Diplomacies

Wayne JumatThe South African, Chilean and Colombian economies have generally struggled due to factors such as corruption (public and private), the global economic recession, struggling economic performance and productivity, growing populations and needs, brain drain, persistent inequality and poverty, declining public expenditures particularly on education, and challenges of sourcing investments. The South African situation is fraught with threats to economic advancement, as it is has to prioritise various development projects apart from education, while simultaneously dealing with the South African economy that was predicted to grow by 2% for 2015. However, there may be ways to resolve the challenges of education, despite the attempts by the respective governments to temper student dissatisfaction and resolve the issues put on the table by the frustrated youth.

In October 2015, education protests in South Africa echoed similar sentiments to those that have been experienced across the Global South, for example in Chile from 2011-2013 and 2015, and Colombia in 2011. Those sentiments have concerned racism, curriculums, quality and the funding for education of all students, with a particular focus on assisting students who need funding the most. These sentiments have found their expressions in social media such as #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall which gives credence to social media platforms as instruments of political use but also allows citizens and average people to initiate and partake in serious discussions between the people, the state and between states themselves. In other words, Twiplomacy is gaining traction as a tool of citizen engagement with governments, whether it is their own or another.

A key factor in these protests is the amount of income and funding being spent on tertiary education versus the inflation of prices and running costs experienced by these economies. Additionally, the economic conditions in these states particularly South Africa, also dictates that there is a limited amount of funding to be expected from the government and the private sector, which makes any resolution of the situation difficult. Thus, there are many factors that contribute to the activation of student protests and consequential use of Education Advocacy, and new diplomacies such as Education Diplomacy and Twiplomacy.

With reference to the student protests about aspects of education, the UN as the global organisation for state interaction and its member states are bound to the UN Declaration on Human Rights (Article 25), the Peoples’ Sustainability Treaty on Higher Education, and guided by the Post-2015 education goal and targets. These documents are relatable to the right to education and related matters are addressed, and provide a platform for students to not only engage with their respective governments but also with the UN itself, which means students have both domestic and global platforms for raising their concerns and planning solutions to these concerns.

However, the role of the private sector and investors cannot and should not be overlooked, as there is a need and moral compulsion for the private sector to come on board, and to assist in resolving the challenges that youth in general face such as access to affordable and quality education (whether they are from impoverished or elite areas). This is the global framework for educational relations, which will guide the interaction between the relevant actors within the Global System. Consequently the question must be posed: how could the youth leverage Education Diplomacy?

In this regard, it is imperative that these students and their relevant organisations target not only the specific systemic education issues (Education Advocacy) but also expand their cause to a political and global level, in order to address youth dissatisfaction about education (funding, curriculum, quality, racism) in a wholesome manner (Education Diplomacy). Accordingly, the resolution of these issues lay in a multi-tiered and composite approach, inclusive of all levels of representation (whether government, private sector, civil society, multilateral platforms), as the challenges affecting education are complex.

The students and proponents of education in South Africa, Chile and Colombia hoping to reach a resolution of educational challenges, should be wary of the need for greater and more consistent engagements between the student formations and governments (or Education Diplomacy) in order to move towards the creation of a wholesome and inclusive strategy that will ensure affordable and quality education, if not free, for all. These engagements can therefore move from Domestic Education Advocacy that addresses issues through persuasive arguments and domestic institutional mechanisms, to Education Diplomacy (inclusive of Education Advocacy methods) that seeks to resolve not only systemic issues but also political and social issues through negotiations or mediation at the global or bilateral level. For example, Education Advocacy would seek to improve the funding available to students, whereas Education Diplomacy would seek to improve funding and address other issues (such as the regional South American and African experiences of Brain Drain) through engaging with global mechanisms or organs that aim at development, prosperity and peace through education and welfare, such as UNESCO, UNICEF and Save the Children.

Ultimately, Education Diplomacy presents itself as a transformative tool not only within society but also within the theoretical and structural frameworks that has prioritised the State as the most important player in the Global System of Actors, particularly decision-making, negotiating and implementing welfare provisions such as increased funding for impoverished students. In implementing Education Diplomacy, solutions may be uncovered by engaging with states that have had similar experiences such as Chile and Colombia, and also other states that have considered or implemented policies that are aimed at either reducing tuition fees substantially or achieving free education for all. Therefore, the efforts of advocates for improved education in South Africa, Chile and Colombia, should aim to operationalise Education Diplomacy to: stem the brain drain experienced in these regions; provide quality education; make education accessible and affordable to all; and to make education development-relevant.

Wayne Jumat is a Research Assistant at Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD.

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