First Post on GATS and Transnational Ed
Keeping up on Transnational Ed necessarily means keeping up on the WTO and GATS.
Individuals, organizations, and national/regional commissions have already written volumes on the implications of GATS for Higher Education -- and the process is just getting warmed up. It is a controversial and polarizing topic. Most of the published work was produced by strong advocates either for or against the expansion of GATS into Higher Education. This blog will approach the topic differently. First, our format is brief but substantive posts, not lengthy articles. Second, it is not an advocacy blog. We will take positions and make our fundamental beliefs and principles clear, but we will not be one-sided. We belief that there are potentially positive aspects of "trade liberalization," (which is the overriding purpose of the WTO). There are also potentially destructive aspects. Rather than positioning ourselves as For or Against such a fundamental global dynamic, we would rather try to help steer the process in directions which accentuate the positive and limit the negative effects.
This Report by Dr. Jane Knight of the University of Toronto is one of the more balanced introductions focusing specifically on trade in Higher Education services. It was published in March, 2002, but its perspectives are still completely up-to-date. All the report misses is the opposition which has emerged, primarily in Europe, over the past year. In order to clarify the meaning and timing of this movement, a quick orientation on the GATS timetable is needed.
1995 GATS was born in the "Uruguay Round" of WTO negotiations as the world's first multilateral agreement on liberalization of trade in services. GATS stands for General Agreement on Trade in Services.
1997 Many WTO member nations negotiated specific commitments toward trade liberalization in basic telecommunications and financial services sectors.
2000 A new round of services negotiations began, with the goal of more negotiated commitments in more service sectors by more WTO member nations.
March, 2003 This was the recent deadline for member nations to respond to requests with offers to open specific service sectors.
January, 2005 The current round of GATS negotiations will end.
The surprising development which occurred in February, 2003, prior to the March deadline, was the European Commission's refusal to include Higher Education in its immediate commitments. This position was seen in some circles as a major victory for GATS opponents. Apparently, the European Commission became convinced that the imposition of free market rules on Higher Education could lead to the end of public funding and an overall reduction in quality and access.
However, like everything else about GATS, the effect of this European stance remains to be seen. One grey area is the precise definition of "privately funded universities," which are covered under GATS. Could public institutions which receive private funding of various sorts (including research support) be considered "private," at some point, and thus, covered by GATS? Whatever the outcome of that thread, the basic fact is that there will be more rounds and more commitments in more service sectors because GATS itself represents an explicit agenda. It is dedicated to the principle of "Progressive Liberalization." Markets should be open to competition and barriers to competition should be removed -- joining the WTO (about 140 nations have done so) means agreeing with these statements.
If you haven't been keeping up on the WTO and GATS and what they might mean for Higher Education, consider this your first dose. There will be more. We will help interpret current events in this area by providing background and context.
Next post: Where does Transnational Education fit in the broader field of trade in Higher Education services?