Negotiations are underway at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that seriously threaten Canada’s public education system. The United States and the European Union want to expand the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) to apply to all services, including education.
Yet Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew has said1 Canada won’t protect the education sector by exempting it from any trade deals. This represents a dangerous retreat from Canada’s historic position.
Incredibly, it’s Industry Canada that’s defining the federal government’s education policy - and they’ve argued that “government monopolies” and “high subsidization of local institutions” have to go in the interest of increasing trade in education.
But it gets worse. Canada’s position on education is largely plagarized from a WTO paper. But at least the WTO recognizes the key role of public education in reducing inequality. The federal position parrots most of the WTO text, but drops this key point!
Education on the line
If the General Agreement on Trade in Services covered education, this is what we’d see.
For-profit diplomas - Foreign, for-profit education institutions would have the right to set up in Canada. The GATS guarantees investment rights to foreign corporations, including private schools and universities.
Public funds hijacked for private gain - Government spending on education, including student loans, could not “discriminate” between public and private education providers.
Loss of local control - Foreign corporations couldn’t be required to hire locally or have local participation on boards of governors. No residency requirements or preferences for faculty, staff or students would be allowed.
Less Canadian content - Corporations would be free to bring in educational professionals and other workers to staff institutions in Canada, host foreign students and deliver courses across borders through the internet.
Corporate standards - The WTO would review requirements for education professionals and institutions to ensure they were not “more burdensome than necessary to achieve the quality of the service.”
Quality threatened - According to a recent report, governments would have to “give degree-granting authority to foreign educational service providers and to ensure that non-governmental bodies exercising delegated governmental authority (such as teachers’ colleges or professional associations) recognize degrees and diplomas granted by foreign educational service providers, including for-profit foreign providers.”2
While the WTO negotiations will focus first on higher education, the GATS has a clause that requires countries to make more commitments over time, so primary and secondary education may be next. If Canada commits the entire education sector to coverage by the GATS, primary and secondary schools could find they have to compete with private or charter schools for government funding.
We can stop this
We can protect public education if we take action today. By mobilizing Canadians from coast to coast and joining with allies around the world, we managed to stop the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) dead in its tracks.
Now governments and corporations are trying to achieve the same ends at the WTO.
We’ve stopped them once and we can do it again.
The time for action is now.
- Attend one of the public events in your community.
- Ask for information at the public library.
- Check CUPE’s web site and link to other groups opposed to a new trade deal.
- Talk to your co-workers, neighbours and friends.
- Mail a postcard.
- Sign a petition - or have your local start one.
- Write a letter to your local paper - or your local’s newsletter.
- Declare your workplace a GATS-free zone.
- Help mobilize public opposition.
- Contact your provincial elected representative.
- Ask your municipal council to adopt a resolution opposing any new deals at the WTO.
Call, write or fax your Member of Parliament and Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew. Tell them you’re opposed to any new deals at the WTO and ask what they’re doing to protect public services from hostile trade deals.
For the name and phone number of your MP, call 1 800 267 7360. Or you can fax your MP at no cost through CUPE’s web site. Register your views today.
For more information on the WTO and the fight against it, visit the WTO Caravan web site.
1”B.C. worries trade talks will imperil health care” October 7, 1999, Globe and Mail
2“The GATS: What’s At Stake for Post-Secondary Education”, Canadian Association of University Teachers, September, 1999