Education International
Education International

Education unions line up to oppose free trade agreement

published 6 May 2015 updated 29 May 2015

Education International affiliates around the world are applying a full-court press against plans to negotiate public services into the free trade agreement TiSA, sending a clear message to their governments that education is not for sale.

The message from educators is clear. In a display of resistance and solidarity, education unions worldwide are making it clear that public services, including public education, are not commodities to be put to market.

A recently leaked TiSA document has revealed that the governments of Norway, together with Colombia, New Zealand and Australia would like to see education services included in the new trade pact.

Today, Education International (EI) affiliates from each country issued statements to express their opposition to the Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA, currently being negotiated by 24 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

At stake are public services, and for EI and its affiliates, public education.

“The inclusión of education in TISA, as suggested by the Colombian government, means putting the State at the service of big corporations,” said Luis Grubert, president of the Colombian union FECODE.

Grubert also said that TiSA has a potential negative influence on labour conditions of teachers and on the quality of education, since it opens the door to a massive entrance of private providers whose quality standards cannot be regulated by the State.

For many, such as the President of the Australian Education Union (AEU) Correna Haythorpe, the lack of transparency clouding the negotiations is of great concern, especially as details will not be released until five years after the deal is signed.

“Australians should be concerned about the threat posed to public education in these secret negotiations and alarmed by the lack of transparency,” said Haythorpe in her joint statement with Australia’s National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

Echoing Haythorpe, NTEU President Jeannie Rea said that her union “supports a clearer definition of public services which retains the right of governments to provide and fund public services without being obliged to provide subsidies to private providers.”

New Zealand’s union leaders have come together in a media release to make clear that including education in free trade is no deal.

The National Secretary of the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), Paul Goulter said that TiSA “could result in foreign corporations suing any government that sought to legislate against the expansion of charter schools or to improve the quality of private early childhood education services.”

In the eyes of Tertiary Education Union (TEU) President Sandra Grey, the “proposed deal would restrict future governments' rights to regulate the quality and provision of education and protect unique aspects of New Zealand’s education system.”

While the President of the New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) Angela Roberts said that the kind of marketisation TISA would open up would be extremely harmful for students’ education.”

In Norway, both the Union of Education Norway (UEN) and Utdanningsforbundet spoke out against their government’s position.

In a letter to Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende, the UEN made its position very clear.

“There is broad-based political agreement in Norway that education is and must remain a public service… We were therefore surprised to read that Norway endorses a proposal that will expand the scope of professional services to include private educational services,” reads the statement.

In its letter to the Foreign Minister, Utdanningsforbundet states that “It should be educational policy and not trade policy trade-offs that must govern the education system. It is therefore highly reprehensible that Norway apparently pushing to expand the scope of the agreement to include private education services.”

Education International says that restricting the capacity of governments to regulate the provision of education in their national interests poses a direct threat to quality public education for all, potentially impacting on student learning conditions and the working conditions of teachers, academics and other education workers. It is also a direct challenge to democratic processes and the public governance of education. In its statement, EI is calling on all governments to exclude education from trade agreements.