SAIH and partners believe everyone has the right to quality higher education. Higher education is critical for creating new and extend existing knowledge, encourage critical thinking, and provide individuals with tools to break down the structures that construct and maintain poverty. However, in order to accommodate for more young people who now complete secondary education and seek higher education, states are raising student fees. This puts educational opportunities further out of reach for those who cannot afford to pay, whilst others are excluded from, and within, the higher education system due to gender, language, disability and socio-economic backgrounds. Harassment against women and LGBTI persons is persistent in universities and challenge the safety and wellbeing of students.
Civil society has a critical role in voicing such concerns, holding decision-makers accountable and demanding change. Students and young people are often at the forefront of this struggle, as they know education can help build their future. Furthermore, as the end recipients of education they hold unique knowledge of whether the education provided is fair and of good quality, if they are free to research what they want, and whether university spaces are safe and allow for freedom to organise and engage in public debate. When voicing their demands around the provision of higher education, they often inspire broad public participation. On numerous occasions, students protesting the lack of quality education has sparked nationwide demonstrations, momenta and international attention, for example in Burma/Myanmar, South Korea, Chile, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Strong, representative student voices are essential in national and international decision making, to bring relevant matters to the attention of leaders and demand quality, equity and inclusion in higher education. However, in many countries, governments are clamping down on citizens’ rights to engage in public debate, and students often become particular targets because of the active role they play. Organised student movements frequently face challenges, such as restricted freedom of expression, bans on specific organizations, ongoing surveillance, and threats and violence against individual activists.
This exchange program aims to tackle these challenges by focusing on strengthening capacity and collaboration of civil society activist fighting for their education rights, as well as by documenting and creating awareness around the serious violations that are taking place against students. Throughout the project there will be an emphasis on equality and empowering female student leaders who are often side-lined in their organisations as gender stereotypes and norms hinder their participation.