Free market universities and global trade treaties: Unintended consequences?

The General Agreement on Trades and Services (GATS) is considered among the crown achievements of the Uruguay Round of the negotiations and talks of the World Trade Organization, entered into force in January 1995. I am not expert in international trade, but to my understanding, GATS aims to bring the benefits of globalization to the service sector of our economy. For a quick overview, see http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/serv_e/gatsqa_e.htm

While I may be stretching my imagination, I find it interesting that, Article I(3) of the GATS excludes “services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority”. These are services that are supplied neither on a commercial basis nor in competition with other suppliers. Cases in point are social security schemes and any other public service, such as health or education, that is provided at non-market conditions.

Wouldn’t you agree that the fundamental philosophical issue that we are debating about the ‘public authority’ model is to define whether or not we provide higher education as a service at non-market conditions? If at the end of this debate, if we come to establish ourselves as providers of ‘a service on a commercial basis, in the market in competition with other suppliers’, would we be required to open the door for, say, outsourcing of lecture services; WI providing tuition vouchers for students to seek at University of Wisconsin degree at say, UW-Shanghai?

It is not difficult for a paranoid mind to connect some of the dots and end up with a nightmare scenario of our future in the emerging globalized future for higher education.

– Jeevee

 

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