Education is human right and a public good. Democratically elected governments, whether at the local, regional, or national level, should be the guarantors and primary providers of education systems. These governments have the main responsibility for ensuring that free, universally accessible education is well-resourced and constantly updated and developed. Public authorities should oversee and regulate the education sector and aim to constantly improve its quality, establishing and implementing a legislative framework that ensures high-quality education, professional standards, access for all and a democratic governance system.
The values of education and the need to maintain and improve quality require public authorities to protect the education sector from ideologically and often profit-driven agenda of privatization and commercialization. This includes marketization and trade in education and intellectual property, the casualization of employment in the education sector, the application of private-sector management models on education institutions, the privatization of provision, and the intrusion of for-profit motives or business interests in the governance of education institutions.
The emergence of a global “market” in education poses a number of risks for the teaching and research missions of educational institutions. The privatization of education has been facilitated by trade and investment agreements like the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) as well as a growing number of bilateral and regional treaties. One of the major threats on the horizon is the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) being negotiated outside of the WTO and with little transparency. These agreements have the effect of locking-in and intensifying the pressures of commercialization and privatization. They risk transforming education from a public good into a commodity, inherently limiting access to education to the most privileged students. Even where public funds are used to finance private schools, there are indications that inequality is increasing, undermining one of the vital goals of public education.. EI believes that services provided in the public interest must not be subject to the commercial rules of trade treaties. Transnational education should be governed by educational principles rather than commercial imperatives.
In the event that the state does not have the capacity to provide education for all, a strong bond of international solidarity is needed to support aid. This is essential for achievement of the Dakar EFA goals, the MDG’s education related goals, and he Sustainable Development Goals. States or territories with weak political systems, failed states, states afflicted with violence or natural disasters, contested territories, or non-democratically governed regions often require international aid and assistance to build comprehensive education systems that are vital to their social and economic development.
EI policy opposing the privatization and commercialization of education is mainly shaped by resolutions passed by World Congresses since 1995. These resolutions generally oppose the inclusion of education services as part of bilateral, multilateral, and regional trade agreements. The following resolutions have been passed with regards to privatization and commercialization of education: “Resolution on the Dangers of Privatization of Public Education” (1995), “Resolution on the Global Campaign to Defend and Enhance Public Education” (1998), “Resolution on the International Labor Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the Globalization of the Economy” (1998), “Resolution on the World Economy and Education” (1998), “Resolution on Educating in a Global Economy” (2001), “Resolution on Globalization and the Rights and Employment conditions of Teachers and Education Personnel” (2001), “Resolution on the International Labor Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the Globalization of the Economy” (2001), “Resolution on Education - Public Service or Commodity?” (2004), “Resolution on defense and development of public education” (2007), “Resolution on the Strengthening of International Trade Unionism within the Context of Globalization” (2011), “Resolution on Copyright and Education” (2011), and “Resolution on Stopping TTIP, TISA, CETA, TPP and other similar trade and investment agreements” (2015). To learn more about these resolutions, click here.
The Unite for Quality Education campaign continues. However, based on discussions at the EI Congress in 2015, even more emphasis is being placed on fighting privatization and commercialization of education in the “Global Response” campaign. Supporting quality public education and opposing the creation of privatised, poor-quality education are two sides of the same coin. More information on the Global Response is available at https://www.unite4education.org/about/a-global-response-to-education-commercialisation/ There is a link to a blog with considerable information and analysis on the issues, but also on national experience.
It has become clear that not only are weaknesses in quality of education and in funding a threat, but also the pressure to limit education and to change its public service nature. That often requires not only challenging the dogma too often being imposed on public education, but also the major, often multinational corporations who see education and a lucrative global market.
That goes beyond privatization and includes, for example, elements of the development in some countries of the imposition of standardised tests which are used to rank schools, students, and teachers. Such testing imposes stress on students and teachers, robs teachers of professional prerogatives, effectively prioritises subjects that are easily measurable. This distorts the very mission of education. Although in many cases such systems are being imposed by public systems, major corporations are developing and peddling such tests and enlisting the support of many politicians.
Privatisation and commercialisation have affected several developed countries. However, multinational education companies have expanded their reach into developing countries. That is often done with the support of aid agencies in developed countries. Such schools most often charge fees and a number of such enterprises increase their returns, in part, by hiring unqualified, poorly paid teachers.
EI has been working closely with member organisations in all regions on privatisation and commercialisation. In some cases, they have gathered considerable public opposition to such schemes and have even obtained support from Education Ministries. Examples of major efforts include Uganda and the Philippines.
The threat of privatisation is not a minor irritant. It is a major problem. One of the largest actors in the “global education market”, Bridge International, plans to sell basic education services directly to 10 million fee-paying students in Africa and Asia by 2025.
If education is considered to be a market, the logical public policy extension of that thinking is that education services should be treated in international trade and investment agreement like other private services to ensure the protection of the “rights” of private investors. EI remains vigilant and very active on trade and investment agreements to ensure that education is carved out of private investor protections and that arbitration systems are not imposed which might privilege private interests over public services and sovereignty. This work is done in cooperation with other GUFs and the rest of the trade union movement who share EI concerns about the protection and quality of public services and democratic control.