Canada hosted the third Education International conference on higher education and research in March. Thirty-seven national associations from 27 countries attended the three-day meeting sponsored by the Fédération québecoise des professeures et professurs d'université, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec, the Fédération nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du Québec and CAUT.
EI president Mary Hatwood Futrell opened the conference with comments on the challenges facing education as a result of globalization, linking her remarks to EI's commitment and policies for widening access to education at all levels, and promoting the needs and interests of education in developing countries. She also praised CAUT's work in drawing attention to the potential dangerous impacts for education of the General Agreement on Trade in Services negotiations in Geneva.
Delegates heard presentations from representatives of UNESCO, the International Labour Organization, and the World Bank, and reaffirmed EI's view that education, including higher education, is a public good. They emphasized the need to resist efforts by global policymaking agencies to liberalize, privatize or commercialize education.
Concerns about commercialization of education were raised throughout the conference - including greater reliance on private funding, government policies that make researchers dependent on private "partners," accountability measures that link post-secondary education to economic outcomes, and a growing emphasis on funding research that has short-term commercial potential.
Delegates also conveyed concerns on the tendency of higher education employers to claim the intellectual property rights of their academic staff. CAUT president Tom Booth described this not only as unjust, but as a short-sighted policy that, together with a lack of support for basic research, will erode the capacity and incentives essential for innovative independent research.
CAUT's study on the impact on GATS was the subject of a plenary session in which representatives from national unions in Australia, the Ivory Coast and the United Kingdom commented on how GATS can affect their countries' educational systems.
Mary Burgan, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, talked about the impact of Sept. 11 and stressed the importance of a renewed commitment to academic freedom in these times. Delegates agreed universities and university unions must defend plurality of discourse in society and defend staff against a new "culture of fear" in the face of simplistic social, political, and military "solutions" stemming from governments and disseminated by an increasingly concentrated global, corporate mass media.
Delegates from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and other countries evaluated the impact of university administrators' increasing use of part-time and other contract academic staff. "Not only are these positions inferior to tenured staff, in respect to accumulation of rights to tenure, access to office space, holiday entitlements, or opportunities to undertake research to further their own careers," said Paul Bennett, national official from the U.K.'s National Association of Teachers of Further and Higher Education, "contract staff may face different legal, employment and trade union rights from permanent staff."
Delegates unanimously passed a resolution criticizing the actions of Canadian authorities who denied visas to delegates from Guinea and the Ivory Coast. Intervention by CAUT and FQPPU resulted in the Canadian consulate making a last minute change to allow leaders of the Ivory Coast higher education union to attend, but the delegation from Guinea was unable to travel to Canada.
Delegates also passed a resolution supporting the Spanish unions' efforts (including two days of general strikes) to reverse the Organic Universities Law enacted last December by Spain's parliament despite opposition from the country's rectors, students, administrators and unions. The law takes away democratic processes for the internal working of universities, replaces the collegial governance process with one of individual decision-making, permits political interference in university autonomy, and supports the creation of private universities without the restrictions applicable to public universities.
The next higher education and research conference will be organized in the Africa region. EI was urged to maximize the opportunity to assist in long-term capacity building for higher education and research unions in Africa and the southern regions of EI.