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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 1999

Higher Education Unions Plan Pro-Active Agenda

National unions meeting at Budapest conference seek action on academic freedom and resistance to deregulation and privatization of public education.

Eighty representatives of 24 national higher education or research-specific unions met in Budapest September 23-25, 1999 for the second international conference on higher education and research organized by Educational International. Created in 1993, EI is now the world's largest educators' federation representing 23 million members through its 294 member organizations. CAUT, a newly-chartered member of EI was represented in Budapest by its president, Bill Graham, and staff member Robert Léger.

CAUT and its sister associations around the world are working to give higher education issues a greater profile within EI and to encourage an action-based agenda to address them. The Budapest conference was a valuable opportunity to raise the most pressing problems facing higher education -- core funding crises brought on by government under funding, assaults on and challenges to academic freedom, the commercialization of education and research, and the threat of the inclusion of education in the liberalization of the trade in services to be addressed by the WTO in Seattle later this month. "It is important for Canadians and the federal government to know that these are issues of global importance, and that teacher organizations worldwide are profoundly concerned about them," Graham said.

UNESCO Recommendation

EI general secretary Fred van Leeuwen noted that EI had played a large part in the adoption by the UNESCO General Conference on November 11, 1997, of the Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel, which CAUT's former executive director had worked so hard to achieve. EI has pledged itself to promote and develop an effective monitoring process for the implementation of the recommendation.

The Budapest conference, at the initiative of CAUT, unanimously resolved that EI should seek action from UNESCO regarding the implementation of Article 75 of the recommendation, where the director general had been charged with preparing a comprehensive report on the world situation with regard to academic freedom and the human rights of higher education teaching personnel. So far nothing has been seen of the report.

The resolution concerning the implementation of Article 75 calls for the UNESCO director general to:

  • publish the reports on academic freedom received from member states, name the countries that did not provide reports on academic freedom in the context of Article 75, set a new date for the receipt of reports and allow for the provision of reports by NGOs;
  • establish a commission charged with the responsibility of assembling, analyzing, and reporting upon the conditions identified;
  • appoint, in consultation with EI, to the commission a majority of individuals who are "higher education personnel" as defined by the recommendation; and
  • provide to the commission the staff and financial resources necessary to complete its work within the 24-month period immediately following its creation.

WTO Millennium Round

General secretary van Leeuwen reaffirmed EI's opposition to international institutions' attempts to deregulate and privatize education. Delegates to the conference advised EI of serious concerns related to the impending commencement of the World Trade Organization Millennium Round. Exponents were concerned that proposals from many OECD countries, including Canada, are cal-ling for significant increases in the scope of, and degree of liberalization achieved by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). This liberalization would include education among the services.

The resolution voted on by the delegates states, among other things, that:

  • the free market model which underpins these liberalization efforts is inappropriate for tertiary education and education generally;
  • EI's central objective should be to have education excluded from the scope of the GATS;
  • EI should encourage its affiliates to develop coordinated campaigns on the forthcoming negotiations, and should demand openness and transparency of negotiations and consultation with national unions;
  • EI should press for a moratorium on further liberalization of trade in educational services, and for full participation by national education unions in the determination of their countries' positions, and for recognition that action taken by governments for the provision of public tertiary education cannot be considered a disguised restriction on trade in services.

Van Leeuwen as well proclaimed EI's commitment to promote open and accountable institutional governance and management systems involving staff unions, and support for academic freedom and the right to collective bargaining including the protection of intellectual property rights and the defense of contract and part-time staff.


Conference delegates also unanimously supported CAUT's resolution concerning the commercialization of higher education and publicly funded research. It called upon EI to endorse the principle that publicly funded higher education and public sector research serve the greater social good, the academic freedom of research personnel and the public interest, and to oppose proposals which make commercialization a fundamental mission of higher education.

The resolution urges EI to take whatever steps are necessary to monitor, resist and publicize the impact of the growing commercialization of higher education and public sector research including, but not limited to: the strategies of governments which may require researchers to enter into relationships and partnerships with private sector corporations as a condition of public sector research funding; and attempts to vest the ownership of intellectual property produced by publicly funded higher education and public sector research personnel with private sector corporations without regard for the public good and the contractually guaranteed rights and academic freedom rights of researchers.

The Budapest conference also adopted resolutions dealing with the pressing and dangerous situations in East Timor and Ethiopia.