Swiss: do not leave us in dark over Gats

August 23, 2002

The Swiss government is preparing to sign agreements on regulation of higher education under the General Agreement on Trade in Services despite opposition from university rectors and the European University Association.

In March, the ruling Radical Free Democratic Party said it was willing to support the Gats aim of opening universities to greater competition with private education providers.

The EUA criticised the European Commission earlier this year for preliminary agreements with the World Trade Organisation, although the European Union signed the Gats treaty in 1995 and endorsed education being listed as one of 12 service sectors.

The national union of Swiss students (VSS) says the ratification of the Gats treaty would be a step towards privatisation of the public service sector.

More than 1,000 students attended a rally in Geneva last month to protest against the government's alleged failure to provide information about the potential treaties.

VSS president Stephan Tschoepe said: "The VSS and the rectors' organisation are against the signing of a Gats treaty and we support the EU rectors'

association in its attempt to pressure the European Commission into not signing such bilateral agreements through the WTO," he said.

The general secretary of the Rectors' Conference of Swiss Universities (CRUS), Matthias Stauffacher, said: "CRUS and the Swiss University Conference cannot be excluded from talks, and we are expecting to be invited to negotiations in the autumn."

Students believe that the federal ministry's support for Gats could be the cue for regional governments to invite foreign institutions to set up campuses in Switzerland at the taxpayers' expense.

They claim that the number of scholarships and government financial assistance would be reduced by Gats, threatening already inadequate funding.

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