The global education market is worth trillions. And it’s viewed as a very lucrative sector particularly in the USA.
That why there’s US pressure to include education in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP
) currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States.
It’s not just the USA pushing for education to be included. The last Government’s international education strategy policy
said it would negotiate with the EU to ensure ‘trade in education services can be treated as a priority’ in trade agreement negotiations. This would allow the UK to ‘take advantage of global opportunities in the education services sector’ and remove ‘market access barriers which our education services suppliers face in some third country markets.’
But it’s not just ‘third country markets’ which could be targeted. TTIP could potentially lead to for-profit schools in English state education. There are other dangers
1When a service is locked-in to trade agreements, it remains locked-in. No future opt-out.
2‘Market access’ rules would ban trade agreement signatories from adopting limitations on for-profit organisations wanting to provide publicly-funded services like education.
3These rules could limit the ability of signatories to regulate how private and for-profit schools operate.
4Attempts by countries to impose new quality assurance requirements on providers could be interpreted as a hidden trade barrier.
5The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism would allow companies to sue governments for alleged infringements of the trade rules which they claim affect their profits.
The negative effects on state education and other public services could be avoided if they were excluded from TTIP by negotiating a ‘carve-out’. But even if it were, state education in England could still be included. ‘Public education’ is not clearly defined. In England there’s a blurred line between public and private education: private schools are involved in state provision through sponsored academies; the trustees of one free school, IES Breckland, have outsourced its operation to the for-profit Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES).
It could be argued, therefore, there’s a precedent for non-publicly-funded schools and for-profit providers being involved in state education in England. This would make it difficult for a government to say English state education was protected by the carve-out. That’s supposing, of course, our new Government should wish to do so.
Before the 2010 election, Michael Gove
said he would allow groups like Serco to run schools. When IES was given the contract to run Breckland, the Telegraph
congratulated Gove on introducing for-profit schools by stealth. Since then, IES Breckland has been judged Inadequate. But the contract with IES hasn’t been cancelled; neither has IES Breckland been given to another sponsor or closed as other Inadequate free schools have been. A cynic might say IES Breckland continues to be run by IES so the Government can claim for-profit provision is already allowed in England via outsourcing.
It is essential that public education is defined as education which is funded, wholly or partly, by taxation
. The ‘wholly or partly’ description is important to avoid a loophole whereby schools which raise funds through charitable giving or from commercial enterprises (such as hiring out school premises) could find themselves outside any carve-out.
Opposition to TTIP has mainly focused on threats to the NHS and the environment.
The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee
said in March that the alleged boost to transatlantic trade offered by TTIP ‘must not be at the expense of throwing away hard-won environmental and public-health protections’. We should be equally concerned about threats to state education.