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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2001

Decoding the Educational Services Negotiations

Tom Booth
My September column suggests that current GATS negotiations on education could lead to disassembling our teaching and research activities. Predicated on principles of scholarship, our profession will be unbundled and its component parts classified as services for trade.

We will witness reconstruction of our academic effort with open entrance of foreign institutions, limitation of public participation in the institution, loss of institutional control of accreditation, and diluted student aid programs as well as research support.

Unfortunately, the move toward bringing higher education to the trade table is now accelerated, giving rise to worries more serious than previously expressed.

Elsewhere in this issue you read that Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew recently announced Canada's intention to export
educational services through GATS negotiations without having to open up our system to foreign entry.

The reality is that senior trade experts believe the Canadian government negotiators will not be able to protect internal educational "services" whilst entering into external education markets. Certainly, we have cause for increased concern.

Not only are resident hiring procedures, accreditation, public participation, integrity of institutions, and financial arrangements in support of scholarship threatened but, if the full force of GATS is applied, serious question arises about possible venues of attack on university governance.

In a recent presentation to the National Education Association, Carolyn Allport, president of the National Tertiary Education Union (Australia), recognized several problems coming from unrestricted access for external interests.

Inclusion of "associated entities" into the university with access to internal funds has accompanied lowering trade barriers. Such entities receive little or no attention of university governing bodies. Also, "mirror image" private universities with "... none of the broader governance structures of the public university," have been created.

Allport suggests inclusion of associated entities or the formation of private mirror companies shifts elements of university operations away from any regulatory framework and collegial governance, questioning "whether decision-making bodies of the public university have any real say in the decisions and operations of corporate arms" of the university.

In the Canadian context, such developments would put us as at risk. Dileep Athaide, President of the Capilano College Faculty Association, recognizes "we really need to be careful not to yield to the myth of securing foreign markets for our education providers, while protecting our public system in Canada."

In light of Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew's statements and current trends, we can be convinced that Canada's position in the GATS negotiations will jeopardize our public education system. CAUT will be doing everything possible to get the government to modify its position before any agreement is signed.