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FROM BELGIUM TO A SMALL RURAL VILLAGE IN EASTERN FINLAND Born in Belgium, Pieter Dhondt works as Senior Lecturer at the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies at the University of Eastern Finland. Specialising in university history, Dhondt came to Finland in 2005 to work as a postdoc researcher at the University of Helsinki. His research focuses on the intercultural transfer of university ideas within Europe in the 19th century, the history of academic mobility and developments in medical education, among other topics. Since 2010, Dhondt has been working at the University of Eastern Finland, and he and his family live in a rural part of Eastern Finland. “For a time, we lived in Belgium, but we wanted to return to Finland,” Dhondt says in fluent Finnish. Learning the Finnish language has helped him to integrate into the local village community.

The relationship between the university and the surrounding society is a theme Dhondt also focuses on in his new research project.

The students moved to another city and started up their own university there, by way of protest.”

“There was some collaboration between universities and state administration as early as in the Middle Ages, but nowadays collaboration is almost a given fact.”

THE GERMAN STUDENT MOVEMENT is a good example of the student protests introduced in the book. The authors have

“THE OCCUPATION of the Old Student House was an extraor-

hand-picked some interesting examples of student unrest from

dinary incident in the 1968 student unrest. During the course of

different centuries.

events, Finland’s then President Urho Kekkonen sided with the students. Moreover, the occupation of the Old Student House indeed started as a protest against the university’s administration, but developed into a symptom of the internal division of the student movement,” researcher Pieter Dhondt says. Together with Elizabethanne Boran, he is the co-editor of the Routledge book Student Revolt, City, and Society in Europe,

In Italy, for example, students at the University of Padua demanded Italian involvement in the First World War. “They looked at the war from a global perspective and felt that Italians should bear their responsibility in the war.” Furthermore, not all student protests have been initiated by students: professors have also played their part in encouraging student unrest.

focusing on the European history of student protests from medieval times to the present. The book points out that although every

WHAT IGNITES THE SPARK in student protests? One of the ques-

new generation of students thinks that they are the first ones to

tions on the researchers’ minds has been whether student protests

man the barricades, Europe in fact has a long history of student

are caused by adolescent rebellion or collective student identity.


The numerous examples found in the book show traces of both.

“One can certainly go further back than the emergence of the classical student movement at the beginning of the 19th century to find examples of collective action by students to influence society.”

“However, collective student identity is perhaps the most common cause of student unrest.” The authors also encourage students to point out injustices in the future and to man the barricades when needed. Although today’s students are sometimes accused of inadequate societal engagement,

NOT ALL STUDENT PROTESTS have been about overturning the status quo, though. In Germany, for example, students protested

the 2010s feature numerous examples of student protest. In Finland, students have organised demonstrations and oc-

against the liberal ideas introduced by the French Revolution.

cupied university buildings to oppose the country’s new univer-

According to Dhondt, the German student movement also consti-

sity legislation and cuts in student financial aid. Students at the

tutes a turning point that is indicative of a change in the relation-

University of Amsterdam, in their turn, occupied two university

ship between the university and the surrounding society.

buildings in 2015 in protest of cuts in funding for education. In

“It’s a nice example of the transition from traditional ’town and gown’ conflicts to closer relationships between the university, especially its administration, and the city or state administration.” Previously, the academic community could choose to relocate in the event of a conflict with the local administration. “In this case however, not the university as a whole, but only the students moved to another city and started up their own university there, by way of protest.”


the same year, students in the UK protested against the neo-liberalisation of the country’s education system. “In other words, today’s students are more than ready the man the barricades,” Dhondt says. He says that public sentiment towards student protests is usually more positive than towards other protests. This is partly due to students being part of society’s elite. “There is something of a paradox there.”

UEF Bulletin 2018  
UEF Bulletin 2018