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Studying the Supra-National in Education: GATS, education and teacher union policies

This article starts by putting the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) into a general context of privatisation. It is noted that the privatisation process is in many cases complex and not only about full-scale privatisation of schools. The growing trade in education must be seen in this context. GATS is not an agreement which deals with educational issues from a political or educational perspective, but from a commercial and trade perspective. The purpose of GATS is to liberalise trade in services, which also includes education. Commitments made in GATS negotiations are difficult to withdraw and the protection of commercial interests which GATS provides is stronger than the protection of human rights, in, for example, the Convention of the Right of the Child. The protection given in GATS to public services, including public education, is ambiguous at best and in many cases open to interpretation by Trade Dispute Panels. It can be assumed that such panels will deal with some educational matters in future. Another risk for the future is that governments will use GATS as an excuse for deregulation and privatisation within the education sector. There is also a risk that education will become part of a general negotiation game where governments may have to open up the education market in their own countries in order to get access to other markets and that education policies will increasingly be decided by trade ministers instead of education ministers.