Letter: Markets and quality 1

November 16, 2001

Eric Froment, president of the European University Association, has given a timely warning about the potential for damage to higher education posed by the General Agreement on Trade in Services now on the World Trade Organisation agenda (Opinion, THES , November 9).

The aim of Gats is to "liberalise" trade in services such as health and education. University education is recognised as requiring openness to new and controversial ideas and moral and intellectual independence of political authority and economic power.

Gats could mean that for-profit providers of higher education would be entitled to market their courses in the UK. WTO rules would make it impossible to disqualify them on grounds that they had no respect for academic freedom and used courses to further ideological or commercial ends. Moreover, the providers could insist on government subsidies equivalent to those provided to established bona fide universities.

I would like to hear whether the Department for Education and Skills backs the European University Association in its effort to protect public service education and academic freedom from a threat from Gats.

David Packham
Materials Research Centre
University of Bath

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