Elsa Hackl: GATS: Policy Making in Higher Education by Trade Officials?

Elsa Hackl: GATS: Policy Making in Higher Education by Trade Officials?

The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is designed to liberalise trade in services internationally; its definition of services includes education. Since GATS became effective in 1995 trade in services increased substantially.

A new round in service liberalisation is currently being negotiated. Till the end of June 2002 countries presented their requests to open markets in specific areas. Offers from countries that were subject to the requests will now follow and meetings and discussions will be held. In January 2005 negotiations are to end.

Although GATS includes education and there are requests for further liberalisation in education, there seem to have been hardly any reactions from academics and higher education policy makers until the last one and a half or two years 1 One may assume that a reason for this lack of involvement or late interest of higher education stakeholders is that - at least in European countries - trade and education are still perceived as worlds far apart. Most higher education officials and academics do not conceive of higher education as forming part of the marketable services. Trade officials, on the other hand, in a climate of privatisation and as a functional view of higher education has been advocated for decades now, seem to ignore any differences between education and other services. Communication problems between governmental departments as well as tendencies to arrogate competences when opportune to do so, of course, also play a role that trade officials took the lead and education officials and administrators were involved and took notice of GATS only with delay.

I intend to demonstrate on the case of Austria how commitments concerning education under GATS have been made, how liberalisation policies in education are formulated and what role the different actors – trade and education officials, academics and students - have assumed. I am aware that the Austria case is a special one and may not allow generalisation. For example, Austria has a strong tradition of state responsibility for education. It was one of the first countries to introduce compulsory schooling. In 1774 Maria Theresia2 published a pertinent order. In Austria, education is overwhelmingly public funded and – until recently -, highly regulated by laws. Concerning trade policy making, Austria, a small and economically dependant country, is strongly oriented towards its neighbours. In addition, when GATS was negotiated, negotiations between the EU and Austria concerning the country´ s access also took place. In fact, both treaties came into force on 1 January 1995. EU access also entailed changes in education - this may have distracted the education community´ s interest from GATS. (Sigue)

Consortium of Higher Education Researchers, 15th Annual Conference, 5-7 September 2002, Vienna, Austria