US 'collaboration and respect'

November 11, 2005

The Times Higher examines the reactions to the international guidelines on transborder higher education

"What's the point?" summarises the reaction of the traditional US higher education industry to proposals to include higher education in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats).

American universities are well established abroad, where they have trademarked MBA programmes. But the US trade representative is seeking to eliminate international barriers to adult education and training services, including distance education.

"That was perhaps our original concern about Gats - why it was needed,"

said David Ward, president of the American Council on Education. Higher education is not in the same category as other commodities, organisations such as the ACE believes. And there is concern about reciprocity demands - whether, for example, US institutions would be required to provide tuition at the same low rates as universities in nations that subsidise tuition.

Many of those worries have since been ironed out; the proposal now specifically excludes the need for reciprocity in such matters as tuition fees. Opening foreign markets would clearly benefit the roughly 750 for-profit degree-granting higher education institutions in the US, whose undeniable popularity has pushed their revenues to $5.3 billion (£3.05 billion) a year - 20 per cent more than last year - and their enrolment to some 4,000.

The US Government is removing obstacles - including taxes, restrictions on instructional materials transmitted online and by satellite and red tape - to opening foreign markets.

Traditional higher education associations had said there was no need to pursue such changes, arguing that further opening the world to moneymaking US distance-education providers could harm embryonic institutions in developing nations.

But they have largely dropped their objections in response to changes that eliminate reciprocity in tuition. "We believe that most of our concerns were actually heard," Dr Wade said. "We felt there was a great deal of understanding. We want to make sure as these things are presented that the cultural impact is recognised and that the tone of the intergovernmental relationship is collaborative and respectful."

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