Driven by concerns about privatisation, European students and teachers demand that education be excluded from the EU-US free trade deal.
Although most of the negotiating papers in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks are kept behind closed doors, the European Students’ Union (ESU) has raised concerns about the fact that public education could be treated as an ordinary economic service.
The ESU said it does not share the US approach on education, and demands that education – private and public – be excluded entirely from the negotiating table, not only through a “simple exemption”, which “would not suffice”, but through a “complete carve-out”, as it was requested for the audiovisual sector.
“Without effective protections and exemptions from the rules of the TTIP, the education sector could be exposed to increased pressures of commercialisation and privatization,” said Maroš Korman, member of the Executive Committee of ESU.
US for-profit companies in question
What teachers and students alike denounce is the possibility for American for-profit private higher education institutions to be able not only to open subsidiaries on European soil, but also to have their diplomas recognised, since EU legislation is “unclear”, ESU chairman, Rok Primozic told EURACTIV in a phone interview.
“We don’t know what would happen if such institutions were allowed in Europe. It could open some gates. Even if those diplomas were not recognised, employers might not be aware of it,” Primozc said, arguing that the Washington could even demand recognition of those diplomas in the negotiating process.
Europe and the US could clash over their mutual recognition of higher education, ESU warns.
“Distinctions between private and public education institutions are not the same. In the US, they aim for profit, and divide the money between the shareholders. In Europe, private institutions do not aim for profit and they use tuition fees for educational or similar purposes,” the chairman explained.
“For profit education is not our approach,” the chairman insists.
Another aspect of the dispute involves the possibility of US companies suing governments.
“The TTIP is a blank check for US for-profit companies. In 2011 and 2012, US for-profit colleges sued the US government over the publication of a report that was highly critical of for-profit companies. Then the following year, they sued the government again over its attempts to introduce new regulations and protection for students. In July 2012, they won a case to strike out the regulation that would have damaged their profits," the University and College Union of the United Kingdom argued in a press release.
Excluding the sector entirely
The lack of legal clarity, and a lack of insight into the talks, has led student unions to ring the alarm by calling for a full exclusion of the US private sector as the only “safe option”.
“(…) proposed exemptions for education services are extremely weak, and private education services may in fact be included. The problem is that in many jurisdictions, the line between what is public and what is private education is blurring so that any exemption for public education may prove to be inadequate,” said Fred van Leeuwen, general secretary of Education International which represents 30 million teachers worldwide.
TTIP aims at removing trade barriers between the two blocks. If it is concluded, it would be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated.
Criticism of the partnership was raised on issues such as culture, healthcare, and the environment, and now education.
The US and the EU hope to close the deal by year’s end.