Students around globe oppose trade in education

The International Union of Students (IUS) was joined by regional students’ organizations from around the world on Sept. 13 in a Global Student Day of Action to Defend Public Education. The action was aimed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and trade agreements like the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Students around the world are calling for all levels of education to be removed from the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a set of rules about international trade in the service sector adopted by the WTO. GATS forces developing countries, in particular, to open public services, health care and public education to privatization by giant corporations.

“The International Union of Students and the major regional students’ organizations in each of the five global regions continue to mount opposition to the trade agenda in education,” said Frage Sherif, secretary-general of the IUS. “Students worldwide [demonstrated] in Cancún and many countries around the world [against] the World Trade Organization,” said Sherif. “The message is the same everywhere: our governments must defend and develop public education systems, and the World Trade Organization must leave education out of all trade deals.”

Added Sherif: “Education at all levels is becoming more costly, less diverse and less accessible to people as it is included in trade regimes such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services. Our public education is not for sale, access to education is a right of all people.”

The IUS, whose headquarters are in Prague, Czech Republic, is also concerned about other features of the WTO and its trade regime, including its exclusively market-oriented development agenda, closed-door decision-making structures, support of World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies and programs, unfair dispute settlement mechanisms, lack of integration of social and economic rights, and interference in the distribution of affordable medicine.

“Students around the world face many of the same issues – rising fees, under-funding, privatization, repression of their rights,” said Elizabeth Carlyle, IUS spokesperson in the Americas for the day of action. “In Cancún and around the globe, we are working together, challenging our governments to build access to public education at all levels, for all people.”

To cement this common message, the International Union of Students has signed on to a global student statement entitled “Public Education Is Not For Sale.” The statement has also been signed by the All Africa Student Union, the Asian Students Association, the Canadian Federation of Students, the General Union of Arab Students, the International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, the Movement of Students in Quebec, the National Unions of Students in Europe, the Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Students, and the United States Student Association (USSA). Together they represent millions of students worldwide. For more information, contact the USSA at www.usstudents.org.

The author can be reached at ldellapiana@pww.org