Education and the General Agreement on Trade in Services: what does the future hold?

Education and the General Agreement on Trade in Services: what does the future hold?

Pros and cons of including education in GATS, focussing on issues for Southern countries

This document reports on presentations and discussions from the Fifteenth CCEM Preliminary Meeting on Education and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). It contains papers and discussion summaries on a range of topics, including an assessment of the benefits and disadvantages of trade in education, the responses of South Africa and Mauritius to GATS in education, and the implications of GATS for countries of the South.

Some general points include:

  • debate over whether education should be included in the GATS agreements tend to be polarised
  • there are concerns about the lack of control countries may have about the speed and extent of liberalisation of education once it is included in GATS
  • sometimes education is included in GATS agreements by trade departments without consulting education sectors
  • it is possible that GATS could duplicate liberalisation of trade in education occurring through other means
  • too little is understood about the implications of GATS on education in practice, and more information is required
  • the legal implications of some GATS clauses are unclear
  • countries dependent on donor resources could be persuaded to sign up to GATS by more powerful Northern countries
  • poorer countries’ limited resources would make it difficult for them to regulate a liberalised market.

The report states that overall, while participants recognised that trade in education services was happening in any case, and that this was not necessarily a bad thing, it was not clear what GATS had to offer for education systems in developing countries. While there was not unanimity on this conclusion, some of those supportive of trade liberalisation more generally were also guarded about the benefits of GATS for education in developing countries, and suggested caution in countries committing themselves until greater clarity of the implications became evident. It was generally agreed that there was a need for on-going monitoring of the implications of GATS for education, and for continuing the debate on the issues that arise. [adapted from author]