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23 March 2007

UCU is involved in campaigns at the global level to protect post-school education from the threat to 'liberalise' the sector and turn it into a profit-oriented, commodified industry. UCU cannot act alone on such an issue.

Education International has acted effectively as the voice of the sector at World Trade Organisation negotiations in relation to the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) where such proposals have been on the agenda, and has briefed member unions like UCU on the need for national-level action with ministers and officials. GATS continues to be a potential problem because of the possibility that education services will be entered into trade agreements as a commodity. This could among other things lead to the possibility of private universities being set up in WTO countries (such as the UK) which could then claim equal support from state funding as existing institutions.

A notable feature of the negotiations at world level is that they are led by trade ministers and the input from specialist ministers like higher education and research is very limited. It is often the case that education ministers and officials are alerted to genuine sectoral concerns by the academic unions in their countries, having not been involved in negotiations which might 'trade' concessions on education or research for agreements in unrelated sectors. The international and European trade union structures also make it possible to identify and respond to the interplay of initiatives at the global, European and national levels.

Further information

General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)

EI: Fighting the commercialisation of education

Parallel pressures for the universities to be shifted into the market economy come from international agencies such as the OECD. Here too, an EI voice is able to challenge the rationale of the marketplace for higher education and research, and alert national unions to deals being done by their governments behind closed doors.

Last updated: 9 June 2022