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The International Provision of Higher Education

Do Universities Need GATS?

Institutional Management in Higher Education

The provision of higher education in the world is governed by two approaches represented by the UNESCO, on one side, by the WTO, on the other. The members of both organisations are the same governments but the two work on divergent assumptions as far as the development of a world system of higher education is concerned. At UNESCO, actors join a system of common references in order to set up a series of co-operative agreements and ventures – which can be reversible, as participants remain very much in control of their level of commitment to a wider global community. At WTO, on the contrary, actors merge their references by accepting an automatic development of internationalisation that becomes irreversible as the countries accept multilateral concessions from each other.

Governments agreed to enter the field of service deregulation in the Millenium Round by signing the General Agreement on Trade in Services, the GATS, in 1995. This represented a totally new area for all people concerned, be they in the Ministries of Trade, Tourism, Health of Education. Indeed, can the rules developed for goods apply to services – as if services were equal to goods? Can value be defined along the same lines for a material product and a virtual good like a service, in education for instance? Is not a service market much more supply-driven than a market of goods – thus requiring different modalities of international co-operation?

That is the whole point of the debate concerning the commitment to GATS made by several countries exporting education and it explains the claim for caution made last year by higher education associations of the United States, Canada and Europe. This should not hinder the use of UNESCO conventions to reach similar results, or to use convention to move on to agreements at a later stage, when trust and confidence are shared by all partners.

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