In 2011, 180,000 students in Italy were eligible for financial aid; however, only 150,000 ended up receiving it. The other 30,000 students were denied aid despite their eligibility. In spite of the fact that the right to education is enshrined in the Italian constitution (art.34), the government never looked for possible solutions to the problem.
The region of Piedmont was the exception, where almost all applicants received funds. Yet even here, in 2011 only 5,000 of an eligible 12,000 Piedmontese students actually received the aid that they were entitled to. It was only during the Christmas holidays that the regional government, under growing pressure from student rallies and occupations, gave 5 million euros to the EDISU – the regional authority that distributes student aid. Elena Maccanti, a high-ranking councillor of the Northern League Party, claimed that “the right to education is not our priority”. Maccanti and Roberto Cota, the Regional Governor, claim that their priorities are the elderly and those in smaller towns. The reason for favouring these two demographics is clear: they are the Party’s largest supporters. In concert with this political reality, many other influential interest groups are pushing for a generally weaker welfare system, one that would include loan-based aid rather than grants to students. One need only look at the disaster of student debt, as well as the increasing exclusivity of higher education in the United States to see the problems with such a system.
This critical situation has led to the creation of a network of “borsisti” (students receiving study grants) fostered by local student organizations, and by members of the Askatasuna social centre. On December 12, 2011 this network decided to occupy EDISU’s residence, renaming it “Verdi15” (after the address of the building). The occupation began in response to two Tunisian students being kicked out of the residence hall. Verdi15 was occupied by a number of Autonomist militants (generally organizations with Marxist-Leninist backgrounds, based in many squats around Italy), in addition to foreign students who had stopped receiving grants to study, or no longer had a place in an EDISU residence hall. Despite conflicts between some of the autonomous militants and other students, the occupation lasted almost a year, having engaged in various activities: language classes, gym, movies and seminars.
It all ended on October 30, 2012, when an enormous police squadron was deployed to blockade a large part of the city center and defend the buildings of the regional government. Clashes took place throughout the city and lasted into the night, when the Faculty of Humanities was occupied.
During the days of the occupation, some left-wing activists broke into the headquarters of La Stampa, a national newspaper owned by the FIAT Group, to protest against the misinformation that depicted the occupation as destructive, not backed by the students and without any cultural purpose.
Regional newscast on RAI