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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

Stop the Government from Committing Higher Education to WTO!

Saturday 26 December 2015


The All India Forum of Right to Education (AIFRTE) circulated the following leaflet analysing why it is imperative that the ‘offer’ of committing our higher education for market access to WTO-GATS should be withdrawn before the 10th Ministerial Conference at Nairobi (December 15-18, 2015). On behalf of the AIFRTE, Justice Rajinder Sachar sought an appointment with President Pranab Mukherjee on November 4 to submit a memorandum to him on the subject, signed by thousands of people from different parts of the country, but for some inexplicable reason the appointment was declined by the President’s Office. Subsequently on December 14 a letter was sent to the President by the AIFRTE Presidium stating: “As President of our Republic, you are oath-bound to protect the Constitution. We take this opportunity to appeal to you to advise and intervene to ensure that the Central Government withdraws its ‘offer’ of higher education from the WTO negotiating the table of the 10th Ministerial at Nairooi before it is too late!” The AIFRTE also organised an eight-day-long ‘All-India Resistance Camp against Committing Higher

Education to WTO’ at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar (December 7-14, 2015).

The Government of India (GoI) is going to allow educational traders from all over the world, that is, 161 member-nations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), to establish colleges, universities and other technical or professional institutions in India as commercial ventures in the ensuing Ministerial Conference of the WTO from December 15 to 18. Once India’s education sector comes under this regime by making the commitment for market access, the people’s right to education, for which the Government of India must be accountable, will be completely dismantled. The unbridled privatisation and commercialisation demanded by the WTO regime would not only deny access to the poor and those discriminated against on the basis of caste, creed, gender and disability but also deprive those who purchase in the marketplace an education that would not be worth the name. This is because thorough commercialisation will result in degradation of the very purpose of education, course content and pedagogical practices. Education will become too costly for even the middle class to bear its burden. The democratic and social justice agenda—including education at free of cost or at nominal fee, reservations, hostels, scholarships and fellowships—will find no place in the WTO regime. In fact, the entire social justice agenda will be dismantled in both access and content. Academic autonomy, independent research and democratic spaces in our educational institutions will be eroded. Once the commitment for market access in education comes into force, essentially the GoI would be bound to protect the interests of foreign and domestic corporate houses that pursue trade in education against the interests of the students, teachers and the larger society. If the ‘people of India’ fail to bring pressure on the GoI against committing higher education to the WTO, our education system will be entangled with the WTO regime forever and be doomed.

GATS-Education: Three Integrated Multilateral Agreements, namely, 1) General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT-1994) which includes Agreement on Agriculture; 2) Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS); and 3) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) together constitute the main body of the WTO. Education is reduced to one of tradable services and is brought under GATS. Again, under this agreement, it is not a must that only well-established and prestigious foreign universities come here and provide comparable education and research facilities. Any provider can establish a new sub-standard university in the country of origin and then establish a branch here. A report of a survey by a Task Force jointly appointed by the World Bank and UNESCO in 2000 on foreign educational providers is on record stating that even ‘Renowned Universities of Developed Countries established shabby courses in backward countries’. Under the provisions of GATS, India, for that matter any country, need not commit on all services. It means while continuing as a member of the WTO, India can abstain from committing education to the WTO. Hence, we demand the GoI not to ‘commit’ higher education in the WTO.

Our Governments toe WTO: Accredited bodies formed under the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM), one of the legal instruments under the WTO, would annually review the public policies of different member countries and ‘suggest’ measures to change their respective policies. This regulation of national policies by the WTO bodies will prove to be an outright infringement on freedom and sovereignty of the nations, more particularly of the developing and the ‘least developed’ ones, in formulation of their respective public policies. The HRD Ministry in the UPA regime introduced six Higher Education Bills in Parliament to change the domestic regulations in conformity with the WTO demands. Though all the Bills now got lapsed, there is every possibility that the present NDA regime will introduce their equivalent ones and try to pass them. In fact, the imposition of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) in Delhi University and other universities as well as the proposed Common Central Universities Act are steps taken by the present NDA Government to make way for the WTO agenda in higher education. The recent move to abolish the UGC Non-NET Scholarships in Central universities is also a step in the direction of changing domestic regulation by reducing public spending on education to suit the WTO regime.

The WTO-GATS regime reduces education into a commodity and turns the student into a consumer in clear legal terms. By turning education into a tradable commodity, it would also abandon the role of education as an enlightening, empowering and transforming process required to develop social individuals imbued with self-dignity, and citizens inspired by the constitutional values of equality, democracy, plurality, social justice, secularism and socialism so that they are able to protect the democratic rights of the people and independence and sovereignty of the nation. Education-loving people cannot remain silent at this critical juncture.