Canada to opt out of trade area

May 4, 2001

Canada is insisting its public university system will remain exempt from a free trade area that emerged from last month's Summit of the Americas, despite promoting the services of its own private higher education providers.

Among the various protest messages during the summit, many student picket signs read "Public education is not for sale".

Canada's prime minister, Jean Chrétien, and the minister of international trade have made it "crystal clear" that Canada's university system will not have to compete in the Free Trade Area of the Americas, Marc Lortie, the prime minister's personal representative for the 34-nation summit, told The THES .

"It's not possible for the government to have higher education and other social services included in the negotiations," he said.

The federal government has tried to appear non-intrusive by saying it respected the jurisdiction of the provincial education ministries, and was also responsive to critics, who want private services to be kept out of Canada's state-funded social network.

But in an announcement of a C$191 million (£86 million) economic and social development programme, Canada is using a request for firmer investment in the developing countries of the western hemisphere to give some of its private educational services a financial boost. The bidding on education projects will be opened to the private sector.

Earlier this year, private for-profit university education made its entry into Canada when the US-based Devry Institute was accredited to offer Canadian bachelor's degrees in Alberta.

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