The US is on the hunt for overseas higher education markets, and the European Union looks like a prime target given its size and perceived "protectionism" ("V-cs seek openness in talks on free trade", THES , July 12).
The trouble is that the EU has already fully committed itself to privately funded higher education under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. It seems inevitable, therefore, that further liberalisation through Gats would bite deep into traditional higher education, with potentially massive repercussions for the financial viability of institutions, the quality of the overall higher education experience and its sustainability as a public good.
The sector should cease pretending that the neoliberal thrust of Gats has anything to do with the benign, "not-for-profit" internationalism of higher education. Institutions that are inclined towards supporting Gats to boost their export earnings should think long and hard about whether short-term gain justifies exposing the sector to an irreversible, untested trade agreement of unprecedented scope.
Given that the UK government is toying with the idea of further liberalising higher education, we believe the Department for Education and Skills should launch an immediate inquiry into the impact of these negotiations.
Natfhe national official
Association of University Teachers
Director, People & Planet
President, National Union of Students
Vice-president for education, National Union of Students