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Trade Creep: The Implication of GATS for Higher Education Policy

by Jane Knight. The General Agreement on Trades in Service (GATS) plus other regional trade agreements are testimony to the increased emphasis on trade and the market economy in this era of globalization. GATS is the first legal trade agreement that focuses exclusively on trade in services—as opposed to products. It is administered by the World Trade Organization, a powerful organization with 144 member countries. Education is one of the 12 service sectors covered by GATS. The purpose of GATS is progressively and systematically to promote freer trade in services by removing many of the existing barriers. What does this mean for higher education? The current debate on the impact of GATS on higher education is divided, if not polarized. Critics focus on the threat to the role of government, the “public good,”and the quality of education. Supporters highlight the benefits that more trade can bring in terms of innovations through new providers and delivery modes, greater student access, and increased economic gain. The purpose of this article is to discuss both the risks and