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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.