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Universities open new front in education cutbacks battle

Students join with striking teachers in protest over shrinking budgets

"The public education system is being threatened as a whole," said professor of philosophy at Madrid's Autónoma University, Jorge Riechmann, on Thursday as thousands of university students at 20 institutions nationwide staged a strike.

The protests, which saw students cutting off highways in Madrid and Barcelona, present a new front in the wider battle between public educators and authorities and coincided with the eighth day of strikes in the capital against cuts in elementary and high-school education. The university protestors marched on their own for part of the route, then joined other protestors.

Some 12,000 substitute teachers in five regions have been laid off while the education budget for 2011 has been slashed by 2.2 billion euros from last year.

Riechmann stressed that the university strike was not motivated by the elections but is part of a "long-term" undertaking. However, many feel Thursday's protests should serve as a "point of inflection" to mobilize the entire university body and lead the unions to call a general education strike, "whoever wins the election," said Anina Tarrasó of the Interuniversity Assembly of Valencia.