Joint Declaration on Higher
the General Agreement on Trade in Services
LIST OF SIGNATORIES
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
(AUCC), representing Canada’s 92 public and private
not-for-profit universities and degree-level colleges; American
Council on Education (ACE), representing 1,800 accredited degree
granting colleges and universities in the United States; European
University Association (EUA), representing 30 national Rectors’
Conferences and 537 individual universities across the European
continent; Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA),
representing 3,000 accredited, degree-granting colleges and universities
and 60 recognized institutional and programmatic accreditors in the
General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is a multilateral, legally
enforceable agreement covering international trade in services.
Education services, including higher education, are one of the 12 broad
sectors included in the agreement. We, the above associations, put
forward the following declaration with respect to the GATS and trade in
Higher education exists to serve the public interest and is not a
“commodity”, a fact which WTO Member States have recognized through
UNESCO and other international or multilateral bodies, conventions, and
declarations . The mission of higher
education is to contribute to the sustainable development and
improvement of society as a whole by: educating highly qualified
graduates able to meet the needs of all sectors of human activity;
advancing, creating and disseminating knowledge through research;
interpreting, preserving, and promoting cultures in the context of
cultural pluralism and diversity; providing opportunities for higher
learning throughout life; contributing to the development and
improvement of education at all levels; and protecting and enhancing
civil society by training young people in the values which form the
basis of democratic citizenship and by providing critical and detached
perspectives in the discussion of strategic choices facing societies.
Given this public mandate, authority to regulate higher education must
remain in the hands of competent bodies2 as designated by any given
country. Nothing in international trade
agreements should restrict or limit this authority in any way.
1 Taken from UNESCO=s 1998 World Declaration on Higher Education for
the Twenty-First Century: Vision and Action
term “competent bodies” is used in order to take into account the fact
that in any given nation, authority for higher education rests with
different levels of government, institutions, and organizations.
Education exports must complement, not undermine, the efforts of
developing countries to develop and enhance their own domestic higher
education systems . While international
cooperation and trade in educational services can present opportunities
for developing countries to strengthen their human resources, trade
not have the effect of imposing models or approaches to higher education
on nations or of weakening their own national systems.
The internationalization of higher education is integral to the quality
and relevance of the academic endeavour and research mission in the
twenty-first century. For most
institutions, international trade in higher education is an important
component in attaining higher education’s mission. For these
institutions, education exports such as international student
recruitment or the delivery of higher education programs across borders
through distance education are part of a broader set of international
activities which include faculty and student exchanges, research
cooperation and capacity-building initiatives in developing countries.
Quality is a key objective for both domestic provision of higher
education and international education exports, irrespective of the mode
of delivery. Appropriate quality assurance
mechanisms administered by higher education institutions under the
competent bodies must exist to ensure that quality is not compromised.
These mechanisms need to be transparent and widely understood.
International higher education cooperation must operate under a
rules-based regime . WTO Member States
have already established mechanisms to achieve this objective, in fora
such as UNESCO, including international conventions on the recognition
of academic credentials and a network of national information centres on
foreign credentials. These mechanisms need to be further developed and
their implementation better supported by our respective governments to
Higher education differs significantly from most other service sectors
, in that because of its public mandate
there is typically a high degree of government involvement in higher
education provision co-existing with private funding and commercial
activities. This public/private mix permeates not only the sector but,
indeed, the individual institutions within it.
Public and private higher education systems are intertwined and
interdependent. Therefore it is impossible
to effectively separate out certain sub-sectors e.g., adult education,
or certain types of institutions e.g., "private providers", for the
purposes of the GATS without impacting other parts of the system.
Caution must be exercised before putting
the quality, integrity, accessibility and equity of our higher education
institutions and systems at risk without obvious benefit.
Transparency and open consultation with affected stakeholders is
imperative in the development of effective
Very little is known about the consequences of including trade in
education services in the GATS such as on
the quality, access, and equity of higher education, on domestic
authority to regulate higher education systems, and on public subsidies
for higher education. The potential risks of including higher education
in the GATS, as indicated above, could be very significant.
While there are currently some barriers to trade in education services,
not appear to be a major problem overall.
Institutions continue to be able to actively develop exchange
agreements, distance education programs, research collaborations,
offshore partnerships etc. to meet their internationalization objectives
and contribute to international development. Moreover, many of these
barriers appear to be related to the lack of recognition of academic
qualifications or concerns over the quality of educational providers; it
is therefore unlikely that they will lend themselves to trade policy
remedies through the GATS process. Conversely, there are existing
mechanisms, such as the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications
Concerning Higher Education in the European Region (Lisbon Convention),
open to all states, which are dealing with these issues. There are also
national information centres to foster recognition of credentials and
vigorous discussions on ways to improve bilateral or multilateral
recognition of each other’s domestic quality assurance mechanisms.
is extremely difficult to clearly define which education services are
supplied strictly on a commercial basis
due to the public-private mix in all systems and within many
institutions of higher education.
GATS Article I:3 is recognized as being ambiguous and open to
we applaud senior officials in our respective governments for insisting
that public service systems are exempted from the agreement based on
Article I:3, we do not understand how this conclusion has been reached
given the absence of clear, broadly accepted definitions and, more
importantly, the fact that the component parts of the system are so
inextricably linked. In addition, history shows that exemptions to
international agreements such as the GATS tend to be interpreted
narrowly by trade dispute tribunals. For these reasons, it seems
unrealistic to assume that public education at the tertiary level is
exempted from the GATS based on Article I:3.
Many of our respective countries have not undertaken an effective
consultation process between trade
officials and the organizations representing public and private higher
Article I:3 is the agreement=s exemption of services Asupplied in the
exercise of government authority@, where these services are defined as
being supplied Aneither on a commercial basis nor in competition with
one or more service suppliers.@
should be noted, however, that in the case of Canada, there is ongoing
dialogue between the federal government and the education sector with
respect to the GATS.
Operating under these principles, and given these circumstances, the
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the American Council
on Education, the European University Association, and the Council for
Higher Education Accreditation
jointly declare that:
Our member institutions are committed to reducing obstacles to
international trade in higher education using conventions and agreements
outside of a trade policy regime. This commitment includes, but is not
limited to improving communications, expanding information exchanges,
and developing agreements concerning higher education institutions,
programs, degrees or qualifications and quality review practices. Our
respective countries should not make commitments in Higher Education
Services or in the related categories of Adult Education and Other
Education Services in the context of the GATS. Where such commitments
have already been made in 1995, no further ones should be forthcoming.
ACE, EUA , and CHEA convey this joint declaration to the Government of
Canada, the office of the United States Trade Representative, the
European Commission, individual European states that are members of the
nascent European Higher Education Area, and all interested Member States
of the WTO for their attention.
28 September, 2001
Robert J. Giroux, President,
Eric Froment EUA President