Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Free Trade For Education's Future?

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Pursuing free trade in the education sector requires dealing with education according to trade law principles.

This conflicts with the protection of the right to education in international human rights law.

Nearly every country worldwide has ratified one or more of the relevant international human rights treaties that elevate the right to education to a fundamental human right.

Source: WHITHER EDUCATION?: Human rights law versus trade law

The WTO complements the other major international economic organizations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

All three organizations affect prospects for progressive realization of the right to education.

The WTO or any of these globalization efforts are all disguised cartels where the common cause is concerted efforts to create protected new markets and vast new profits for large corporate interests through control and trade-advocated liberalization.

The majority of the standards are developed to exclude the small guy - while these very same regulations (such as the Codex Alimentarius) will be strictly enforced on the small guy - leaving the big money to do as they please.

I think we all need to put some Good effort to educate ourselves and others on this very serious subject. As ignorance is a major weapon and the only way to defend us from its devastating consequences is to wake up and learn as much as we can now.

Stephen Downes writes:

"Now of course the WTO specifically excludes services provided "in the exercise of governmental authority," which one would assume covers education, but this exclusion is very narrow: once fees are charged, the government is deemed to be 'in competition' with private providers.

Moreover, "a conceptual shift towards characterizing education as a 'property right' may be a precursor to the subjecting of all education ­including compulsory education - to liberalization pressures." observation is that, under the WTO, human rights can and often do take a back seat to commerce, a trend that should concern us all."

Directly excerpted from the report:
WHITHER EDUCATION?: Human rights law versus trade law
Learning Channel, October, 2003


Liberalization increasingly converts education into a tradable commodity, which directly undermines rights-based education, namely as a "public good" with governments assuming the primary regulatory role.

It threatens to undermine progressive realization of the right to education, which requires the enforcement of governmental obligations, as required by international human rights law.

At present, proposals for liberalizing the export education industry typically focus on post-compulsory education, pledging that private education and training will supplement rather than displace public education.

Current liberalization proposals under GATS do not - as yet - directly threaten the public provision of compulsory education. However, a conceptual shift towards characterizing education as a "property right" may be a precursor to the subjecting of all education - including compulsory education - to liberalization pressures.

In guaranteeing education for all, private institutions and self-regulation are an inadequate proxy for state responsibility, policy and control.


In most industrialized countries the dichotomy between public and private - free and for-fee - schools has always been part of the educational landscape.

Increasing the proportion of private educational institutions to facilitate trade, while controversial in western societies, will not be revolutionary. However, this is not true for many developing countries.

Deregulating the education sector to facilitate trade will present complex and unfamiliar policy problems for governments.

The agreed negotiating guidelines for GATS incorporate the overarching principle of flexibility for developing and least-developed countries. Some suggest that the guidelines, therefore, appropriately balance the degree of sensitivity required for public education policy against the importance of achieving higher levels of liberalization.

However, the guidelines are of dubious value.

Although the WTO is structured democratically, it seems often to generate outcomes favorable to minority interests: despite their numerical majority status, developing countries' bargaining power at the WTO is very low.

If developing countries do grant industrialized countries market access to their education sectors they should, as a minimum, retain a solid regulatory framework that preserves governmental obligations to provide universal compulsory education.

Trade liberalization in the education sector is likely to gather considerable momentum. Many western educational institutions are experiencing funding shortages. Generating revenue by selling places to overseas students is considered a critical survival strategy. Therefore, governments are under intensifying pressure to facilitate trade in education services. They may pursue liberalization at the expense of development assistance.

As the export education industry expands, more students will flow into industrialized countries. Governments may consider that this student flow provides a source of goodwill that, in effect, replaces the goodwill earned through development assistance.

A burgeoning export education industry may further undermine aid for education.

Source: WHITHER EDUCATION?: Human rights law versus trade law
Learning Channel, October, 2003

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posted by Robin Good on Tuesday, October 21 2003, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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