The onset of the 2011 Chilean protests have been attributed to several causes. The Economist explained the protests as being the result of "one of world's lowest levels of public funding for higher education, some of the longest degrees and no comprehensive system of student grants or subsidized loans" and a flat job market as the detonant.

Historian Gabriel Salazar describes the student conflict as being the continuation of a long strife between popular citizen movements and civic and military dictatorships. BBC have attributed "students' anger" to "a perception that Chile's education system is grossly unfair - that it gives rich students access to some of the best schooling in Latin America while dumping poor pupils in shabby, under-funded state schools."

Many newspapers and analysts have traced the protests back to the 2006 Penguin Revolution that occurred during the government of Michelle Bachelet, some claiming that these are the same secondary students who headed the 2006 movement that when in university are heading the 2011 student protests. Bachelet has defended the legacy of her government and said that in the aftermath of the Penguin Revolution the right-wing opposition prevented them from eliminating for-profit activity in education. Right-wing politician Cristián Monckeberg responded to this by saying that if Bachelet had solved the problem in 2006, the students would not be protesting now. In June 5 it was noted in the Chilean TV discussion show Tolerancia Cero that the Chilean students protests followed a cyclic pattern with major protests every 5 or 7 years.

Víctor Lobos, intendant of Biobío Region attributed the protests to the increasing number of children born outside matrimony claiming that this condition made them susceptible to "anarchism".