Education International
Education International

International Trade Partnership threatens public education

published 4 June 2014 updated 6 June 2014

The European and US member organisations of Education International have joined their voices to those of the AFL-CIO and the European Trade Union Confederation, who have raised concerns about the scope and effects of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is under negotiation currently between representatives of the EU Commission and the US government.

Writing to President Obama and to the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, on behalf of the 15.5 million teachers and education workers collectively represented by the organisations in the United States and the European Union, they called for a Partnership that would ensure the improvement of living and working conditions on both sides of the Atlantic and would not attempt to lower those standards, limit environmental protections or undermine democratic processes.

They expressed their support for quality education for all, and, in that context, stated their concern that the inclusion of “private” adult learning and “other education services” as a subject for TTIP negotiations along with other public services, posed potentially serious risks for educational policy, for public schools and other educational institutions, and for teachers, students and communities in both the EU and the US.

In the letter the organisations argued that commercial trade rules must never restrict the ability of governments and designated public authorities to provide decent jobs and quality public services like education. They said that, if fully applied to public services like education, the TTIP’s trade rules could severely restrict public policy space and lock-in and intensify the pressures of privatisation and commercialisation. They pointed out that evidence showed that such pressures can have a deleterious effect on the provision of these important services. “Countries need democratic authority to provide appropriately for public goods like education”, they concluded, and “that the inclusion of education services in these talks will undermine that democratic decision making”.  They noted that these concerns explained why education to date remained one of the least-covered sectors in the various trade agreements to which the EU and the US are party.

In the letter the organisations say that, if education was covered in the TTIP, the consequences could be serious. They indicated that rules governing market access could restrict the ability of the US and the EU member states to limit the entry and regulate the quality of private and for-profit schools and institutions. “In such circumstances”, the letter continued, “any measure adopted by a public body to promote high quality standards in licensing and accreditation processes could potentially be interpreted as a ‘disguised barrier to trade’ or ‘more trade burdensome than necessary’.” “Furthermore, if, as early indications indicate, an investor-state dispute resolution process is part of the TTIP, private education companies from the EU or the US would have the right to challenge, as a violation of the investor’s right to “fair and equitable treatment”, measures adopted by the other party that they feel interferes with their profits”, they said. “If an investor wins such an ISDS case—heard before a panel of private, unaccountable arbitrators, the host state could be liable to hand over countless millions in taxpayer funds”. They added that this could have a serious chilling impact on democratic decision-making in the sector.

Finally, they welcomed recent efforts to consult with civil society organisations, as the TTIP negotiations progress, but said that they believed that much more should be done to ensure greater transparency. They encouraged the leaders to develop an effective and meaningful consultation process with all affected stakeholders. They said that, in the education sector, this meant ensuring that teacher unions, student organisations, educational authorities, and relevant regulatory bodies were informed and consulted on the talks.