History suggests universities are hotbeds of political protest. However, the generality and causal nature of this relationship has never been quantified. This article investigates whether universities give rise to political protest, drawing on geocoded information on the location and characteristics of universities and protest events in the 1991–2016 period, at the subnational level in 62 countries in Africa and Central America. Our analysis indicates that university establishments increase protest. We use a difference-in-differences and fixed-effect framework leveraging the temporal variation in universities within subnational grid-cells to estimate the effect of universities on protest. Our analysis indicates that localities with increases in number of universities experience more protest. We suggest a causal interpretation, after performing different tests to evaluate whether this reflects confounding trends specific to locations that establish universities, finding no support for this. We also provide descriptive evidence on the nature of university-related protests, showing that they are more likely to emerge in dictatorships and that protests in university locations are more likely to concern democracy and human rights. These findings yield important general insights into universities’ role as drivers of contentious collective action.
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