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A brief history of student protest: From 'no women at Cambridge' in 1897 to 'cops off campus' in 2013

Student activists today are standing on the shoulders of giants

Victoria Finan
Wednesday 11 December 2013 12:42 GMT

With student protests making headlines regularly, and with no signs of student politics calming down in the future, it's time to cast your eyes back and learn from the rich history of protests of the past.

No women at Cambridge, 1897

In a move that would shock today’s student feminists, male students at Cambridge held a protest against a resolution that would allow women to receive full degrees from the university. They suspended an effigy of a woman riding a bicycle - the stereotypical female Cambridge student - from a window while waving banners with slogans such as "No Gowns for Girtonites", Girton being an all-women college. On hearing that the resolution had fallen, students then maimed and decapitated the effigy before pushing it through the gates of all-women college Newnham. Women were not granted full degrees until 1921.

"May Fourth" protests, 1919

The "May Fourth" protests in China were led by students displeased with their country’s response to the post-World War One Treaty of Versailles. Over 3,000 students marched from Peking University to protest against the granting of Shandong territory to the Japanese. Many were arrested and beaten, and eventually China refused to sign the Treaty. The "May Fourth" protests have often been seen as one of the birthplaces of Chinese Communism.

Vietnam protests, 1966-9

Arguably the most famous student protests of all time - those against the Vietnam war - took place in countless American and European cities. In London, the biggest protest was on the 3 July 1966. 4,000 people protested outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, including over 2,000 students from the Youth For Peace In Vietnam movement. In America, students publicly burnt their call-up papers following the introduction of a draft-lottery. President Nixon eventually cited the protests as part of the reason why American troops withdrew in 1973.

A police officer escorts a protestor to a squad car surrounded by dozens of anti-Vietnam War demonstrators outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention (Getty)

May protests in Paris, 1968

What began as just 150 students occupying a university building in Paris ended in a million people marching through the streets. Students had peacefully occupied an administration building at Nanterre, but when the university was closed and the students were threatened with expulsion, over 20,000 students and lecturers marched in protest to the Sorbonne, where they were broken up by use of tear gas. When students realised that promises to re-open the university would not be kept, they marched again, joined by workers' unions, on Monday 13 May. A million students and workers walked, and the university was reopened. However, the revolutionary fervour caught on, and in the next few weeks countless strikes, clashes and protests almost forced the resignation of President Charles de Gaulle.

Students and trade unionists gather in Paris in 1968 (Getty)

The "Garden House Riot", 1970

The local tourist board organised a ‘Greek Week’ at various Cambridge establishments, and students raised concerns given the ongoing dispute against the right-wing military regime in Greece. On the 13 February, they blocked diners from entering the Greek night at the Garden House Hotel, and the ensuing stand-off with the police ended with one officer being severely injured. Six students were imprisoned following the riots and two were recommended for deportation. The then president of the NUS, Jack Straw, condemned the punishments and a young reporter by the name of Jeremy Paxman reported the events in student newspaper Varsity.

"Nelson's Picket", 1986

Student group "Anti-Apartheid" ran a four-year picket in Trafalgar Square in support of the then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Tourist buses would point out "Nelson’s picket" alongside "Nelson’s Column". Their reward came in 1990, when 15,000 people stormed Trafalgar Square on hearing the news of Mandela’s release.

Student protests against Fee Rises and EMA cuts, 2010-

Nationwide protests occurred after the announcement by the government of plans to raise student fees up to £9,000. 52,000 students gathered in London on 10 November, and there was a national outcry following revelations that peacefully protesting students had been kettled by the police. In one incident Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall’s car was targeted by the protesters. Despite the protests, the bill went through and today around 75 per cent of English universities charge £9,000 a year.

Student protesters stand opposite the Department for Business in December, 2010 in London (Getty) (Getty images)

The "Chilean Winter", 2011-13

The ongoing conflict between students and government in Chile has become known as the "Chilean Winter". Led by the charismatic Camila Vallejo, what started as a students demanded more state support for higher education and a better standardised university admissions test became a mass uprising against an entrenched establishment. Government proposals to placate the students have largely failed so far, and though the protests have calmed, negotiations are ongoing. Around 1,800 students have been arrested throughout the protests.

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