A few years ago (2003) I wrote a monograph for the Commonwealth of Learning on the impact of globalisation on education, including distance education.*
At that time the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was master-minding international negotiations aimed at opening up of trade in services. GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) has been complemented by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The US, Australia and the UK were the countries most likely to benefit from greater access to students living and studying in other countries – and probably still are.
The complex, contentious debate on the impact of GATS on education has yielded important policy questions for governments and institutions, especially those interested in online and distance learning. These include:
• Should private or publicly funded education and training from abroad be encouraged to supplement publicly funded on-campus provision?
• Should public funds be made available to pay for education and training provision by public or private foreign companies?
• How should private or publicly funded education and training from foreign providers be regulated, bearing in mind GATS?
• Will the poor be able to afford education and training offered by public or private providers from abroad under GATS? If not, who will assist them?
• What policies and incentives would turn poor students into a market for education and training?
• If education and training from abroad is offered mostly or entirely online, what help can students expect from their home government in gaining access?
• Will individual governments recognise, and will accreditation bodies accept, foreign education and training curricula without any adaptation to match national cultural values?
• How will individual governments prevent foreign education and training providers from offering below-standard courses leading to worthless certificates?
And perhaps pre-eminently important:
• How far can national policies, priorities and culture be protected in a more
open market (than at present) for services such as education?
GATS has not been in the news recently, but it is not likely to go away. What is known as the Doha round of GATT and GATS negotiations has been difficult and very drawn out, with no final outcomes as yet.
The worldwide financial crises have had a tremendous impact on many countries’ willingness to allow foreign services to enter their territories and, for some Western countries, on their ability to export these services. The global downturn is likely to affect governments’ capacity to sustain current levels of public education provision, however. In a few years’ time there may be unprecedented opportunities for private enterprise to offer out-sourced services. There may also be a de-liberalisation of attitudes regarding open educational resources (OERs): proprietors of intellectual property may be even keener than they are now to protect their rights rather than giving them away in order to benefit poor countries, let alone rich ones.
What do you think will happen on this front?
*Globalisation, education and distance education, accessible at: