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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 1998

World Bank Promotes Its Agenda in Paris

CAUT sent two representatives to the World Conference on Higher Education held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris October 5 to 9, 1998.

The score would have read World Bank 4, UNESCO 1 if the recent World Conference on Higher Education in Paris had been a soccer match. For the powerful forces seeking to control post-secondary education, led by the World Bank and its allies, the enemy are university teachers around the world; and war has been declared. The battle cry is that higher education "must proceed to the most radical change and renewal it has ever been required to undertake." And that means radically changing the "traditional" or "classical" or "research based" university and its personnel to meet the ravenous needs of the knowledge-based global economy.

The official documents to be adopted were a World Declaration on Higher Education for the 21st Century and a Framework for Priority Action for Change and Development. As is the case with many such large conferences the wording of the declaration and framework had been largely drafted prior to the event and reflected the compromised blandness we associate with such general statements. From the very first day of the conference, however, it was clear from the discussions that seemingly simple words and phrases carried a heavy load of implied meaning and consequences for implementation.

The original UNESCO agenda, developed over many years at a variety of conferences throughout the world, and the work of its impressive Director-General Federico Mayor, had been relegated to the background by the World Bank and its allies. The problems to be dealt with were finance, access, equity, quality and relevance, lifelong learning, employability of graduates, technology, involvement of business and industry, staff development, academic freedom and autonomy, and world peace.

But for some years now, the World Bank has been developing an agenda on higher education which they refer to as "the reform agenda." The key concepts of the agenda are: privatization, deregulation, and market orientation. Standing in the way of implementing this reform agenda to address the problems are, they make clear, the traditional university in general, and its faculty members in particular.

The thirteen member official Canadian delegation was led by Andrew Petter, B.C. Minister of Higher Education, and Pauline Marois, Quebec Minister of Education. It included government bureaucrats but no higher education administrators, faculty or students.

Delegates from CAUT, the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d'université, and the Canadian Federation of Students were treated cordially by the official delegation but were relegated to guest status. We were disappointed that the official Canadian delegation did not vigorously defend the importance of public post-secondary education.

CAUT and FQPPU worked diligently with the national faculty associations from New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland and the United States to amend the declaration and framework and to influence the debate on some of the key issues. We were greatly assisted by Education International to which most of our national counterpart associations belong.

This powerful international educational coalition, as well as having secured official delegate status, had obtained a rare seat on the fourteen member official drafting committee. This enabled us to get some of our amendments into the final draft of the declaration and framework.

But the World Bank's reform agenda still emerged from the conference alive and raring to go. Their The Financing and Management of Higher Education: A Status Report on Worldwide Reforms, written for the UNESCO conference, explains that the reform agenda "is oriented to the market rather than to public ownership or to governmental planning and regulation. Underlying the market orientation of tertiary education is the ascendance, almost worldwide, of market capitalism and the principles of neo-liberal economics."

Higher education, the World Bank argues, is a private -- not a public -- good whose problems are amenable to market solutions. That is, it is in limited supply, not demanded by all, and is available for a price. Also, the consumers (business and industry) are "reasonably well informed" while the providers (administrators and faculty) are "often ill informed -- conditions which are ideal for market forces to operate." Financing the demand side means, in practice, (i) increasing tuition fees; (ii) charging full cost fees for room and board; (iii) means testing for all student loans; (iv) charging full market rates of interest on all loans; (v) improving collection of loans through private companies, and the introduction of a graduate tax; (vi) training faculty in entrepreneurship; (vii) selling research and courses; and (viii) increasing the number of private educational institutions with full cost tuition. The goal is to make higher education completely self-financing.

The reform agenda also demands that decision making power in higher education should be wrested away from governments and institutions and vested in the clients (students) and customers (business and industry) and the public. The World Bank believes that government financing of higher education combined with institutional accountability to government is responsible in large measure for the survival of traditional, elitist, self-serving education which is unresponsive to the real needs of the (unregulated) global economy. Hence the need for budget reform.

The reform agenda wants an end to "negotiated budgeting" in which governments fund institutions on the basis of such traditional items as enrolment and reputation. That should give way to "performance budgeting" in which whatever public support remains is tied to demonstrated results based on consumer determined output indicators. In this way institutional managers will be forced to make the difficult decisions they are now avoiding, i.e. to reallocate resources in response to client and customer needs. And institutions will be forced into differentiation, ending the "isomorphic repetition" of the traditional classical or research university.

The World Bank believes that the public sector is hopelessly inefficient and unresponsive and unwilling, or unable, to undertake reform for higher education. Institutional managers must be forced to account for their market position, cash flow, product diversification, and progress in creating corporate partnerships. They must also be forced to do a better job of personnel management and control. As one of the speakers from the official Australian delegation openly proclaimed, "the real problem with higher education globally is the faculty."

The World Bank believes that faculty have too much power in higher education and administrators have too little incentive to control them. Faculty power has its sources in control of the curriculum (unrelated to the needs of the global economy), shared or collegial governance, unionism and, of course, academic freedom and tenure.

The goal is to force faculty to give up their power and become more entrepreneurial, as the World Bank's status report reveals: "Radical change, or restructuring, of an institution of higher education means either fewer and/or different faculty, professional staff, and support workers. This means lay-offs, forced early retirements, or major retraining and reassignment, as in: the closure of inefficient or ineffective institutions; the merger of quality institutions that merely lack a critical mass of operations to make them cost-effective; and the radical alteration of the mission and production function of an institution -- which means radically altering who the faculty are, how they behave, the way they are organized, and the way they work and are compensated."

Details of the threat to academic freedom arising out of the UNESCO conference will be in the December Bulletin.