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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

Trade Liberalization and Universal Access to Education Services

"The exclusion therefore does not appear to apply to education services in cases where such services are provided on a non-commercial basis but which are supplied in competition with another service provider. Similarly, the exclusion would not appear to apply to education services that are supplied on a commercial basis even where these services are supplied in the absence of competition with any other service supplier. The exclusion would seem to apply only in those cases where education services are provided by completely non-commercial, absolute monopolies. In most countries, however, education services are normally supplied through a mixture of public and private suppliers, or frequently include certain commercial aspects. A strict reading of Article 1:3 would indicate that such services fall outside the exclusion. In any case, wherever uncertainties about the scope of the exclusion arise, the language will almost certainly be interpreted narrowly. The WTO Council for Trade in Services, for instance, has supported the view that even in the context of sensitive public service sectors such as health and social services, the exclusion “needed to be interpreted narrowly”. "Despite the significance of GATS coverage for education services, there are indications that some member governments may not fully appreciate the limited scope of the “governmental authority” exclusion. Many governments may not recognize that certain aspects of education services and their regulation are likely already subject to those GATS obligations that apply horizontally, including most-favoured-nation treatment and transparency."

G.A.T.S. and Universities: implications for research.

by David Packham, Sci Eng Ethics 9, 85-100(2003) The likely impact of applying the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) to higher education are examined. GATS aims to "open up" services to competition: no preference can be shown to national or government providers. The consequences for teaching are likely to be that private companies, with degree-awarding powers, would be eligible for the same subsidies as public providers. Appealing to the inadequate recently-introduced "benchmark" statements as proof of quality, they would provide a "bare bones" service at lower cost. Public subsidies would go: education being reduced that minimum which could be packaged in terms of verifiable "learning outcomes". The loss of "higher" aspirations, such education of critically-minded citizens of a democratic and civilised society would impoverish the university's research culture which demands honesty and openness to public scrutiny.