We have recently seen pro-democracy demonstrations by students in Hong Kong. Students in other parts of the world, i.e. Mexico, South Africa and the USA, have participated in protests due to their dissatisfaction with issues, including repression, changes to curriculum, lack of access to education, and insufficient funding of education. There is nothing new to students demonstrating and many alumni who have become administrators and government officials find it surprising to now be facing student demands, similar to the demands they once had as students.

We have come to understand the placard waving, chanting and sometimes violent behaviour of student demonstrations. How will all this change as learning converts to being online? If students of a particular institution are scattered around the world or an institution does not have a traditional physical campus, does this mean that demonstrations will come to an end? 

Online versions of demonstrations have already been making their mark. Some people take to social media such as Facebook, or create a website or Twitter page, to mobilise support from fellow students in voicing grievances. Occasionally, a tech-savvy student may show his or her skills at hacking into an institutional computer system and cause damage - or just leave online notes to scare management into realising just how vulnerable the institution is. 

Online demonstrations may appear to be less violent, because there are no screaming people, no fires and no thrown projectiles. We should not be lulled into thinking that an online demonstration cannot be damaging to property and disruptive to the management of institutions. Educational institutions need to ensure that their online security is in place for all systems and that measures will protect personal identity, as well as administrative systems.

Likewise, systems and processes should be in place for student representative councils of online students, to allow them to participate in governance issues and for their voices to be heard.

Submitted on 12 October 2014. First published on

What will online student demonstrations look like?