Indian government to offer Higher Education for 'Trade Regulation' at WTO - GATS - 2015

Published on

The Government of India (GOI) is all set to allow educational traders from 160 member - nations of World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish universities and professional institutions in India as commercial ventures. Once India’s education sector comes under the regime of WTO, people’s right to education - for which the GOI must be democratically accountable - will be completely dismantled. GOI would then be bound to protect the interests of foreign and domestic corporate houses that pursue profits in education, against the interests of the students and teachers of the country.

General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and its conception of education

In November 2014, a special meeting of the General Council of WTO was held in Geneva where it was decided to finalise a ‘work programme’ of the negotiations by July 2015 and further to hold the Tenth Ministerial Conference at Nairobi, Kenya from 15th to 18th December 2015. The agreements at this conference are going to culminate in the suppression of a decade long resistance of the under developed and developing nations to the encroaching agenda of WTO.

In the GATS agreement, education has been reduced to one of tradeable services, along with and at par with services such as recreation clubs and night pubs under the same set of rules, with some variations according to the domestic regulations of member - nations. Formally, education has been conceptualised as ‘Education Service’ with five sub - sectors: Primary, Secondary, Higher, Adult and Other Education. It was in the Higher Education Sub - sector that GOI submitted the offers. In all services, GATS also recognizes four modes of trade. In higher education, they would work as follows:

  1. Cross Border Supply: Students receive correspondence education from a foreign supplier and pay the service charges.
  2. Consumption Abroad: Students go to a foreign nation to receive education and pay service charges.
  3. Commercial Presence: Foreign providers can establish universities and colleges here, provide service and collect service charges.
  4. Presence of Natural Person: Foreign teachers as individuals can come to India, render service in institutions in India and collect service charges.

In all these cases, with India opening its market, Indian students would become customers, foreign individuals get remuneration and foreign corporate houses earn profits. Other than that, the most adverse impact of this agreement would be to reduce education into a tradeable service being controlled by global corporate forces. In addition, this conference aims at widening the jurisdiction and scope of WTO significantly which would prove to be most ruinous for the under developed and developing nations and working masses of the whole world. The worst aspect is that the agreement is, essentially, irrevocable!


Loss of Quality

We need not oppose foreign universities entering India on the basis of educational and cultural relations, in order to exchange and spread knowledge. This has in fact been a prominent feature throughout India’s history.

But that is not the case under the current WTO regime. Now, foreign universities enter into global trade agreements with developing nations in order to make profits as well. This reduces education into a commodity and turns the student into a consumer in clear legal terms. This will lead not only to denial of education to the poor and disadvantaged but also into deception of those who can afford it because the very purpose, content & quality of all education and research will be degraded to suit the interests of corporate capital. In addition, quality control of the future universities is not being enforced under this agreement. A report by the World Bank in 2000 on foreign educational providers, stated: “Well known universities of the developed nations have established substandard branches in the developing nations”.

Loss of Sovereignty

One of the legal instruments under WTO, the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TRPM) oversees accredited bodies that review the trade policies of different nations annually and suggest changes in them. This regulation of domestic policies by WTO is an outright infringement on freedom and sovereignty of the nations in formulation of their respective public policies. Developing and ‘under developed’ nations would fall victim to this provision in an incremental manner.

As a result, The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in India is now more accountable to the TPRM (WTO) than to the people of India! It was clear when MHRD in the UPA regime tabled six bills on higher education in the parliament in conformity with WTO demands.

Loss of Accountability

Following the trend set by Ambani - Birla Report for Higher Education reform (2000), the report of National Knowledge Commission (2006) suggested that an ‘Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education’ (IRA for HE) be established. Similarly, Prof. Yash Pal’s report on ‘Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education (2008)’ recommended establishment of an overarching body, ‘National Commission for Higher Education and Research’ by either abolishing or subsuming the existing statutory bodies such as University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education, National Council for Teacher Education, Medical Council of India, Bar Council of India etc.

Establishment of such IRAs is only to comply with the provision ‘Additional Commitments’ under GATS. Like the already established IRAs in other services, an IRA in higher education would be independent of public pressure and free to regulate the sector in favour of domestic and foreign capital. In addition, IRAs divest the existing statutory bodies of their autonomy, and the central & state governments of legislative responsibility and accountability. UPA government’s bill to establish NCHER may have lapsed along with other bills on education reform, but the present BJP - led government has already committed to establish a similar body in its 2014 Election Manifesto. Call for action

Call for Action

With the impending conclusion of the WTO trade negotiations in Dec 2015, it is the need of the hour to build a pan - Indian movement demanding the withdrawal of offers for market access, before they become irrevocable commitments. AIF - RTE appeals to all pro - people organizations, activists, intellectuals, teachers, students and all sections of the struggling masses to join hands in resisting this neoliberal assault on our education system.

About All India Forum for Right to Education

AIFRTE strives to build a nation-wide mass movement to achieve an education system that promotes pro-people development, equitable distribution of resources, optimization of socio-cultural and knowledge- related diversity and securing civil liberties as well as democratic rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India. For more details, please visit here.