Who Needs ‘Really Good Friends’ When This is What They Are Up To? Trading Away Education as a Human and Political Right! – by Susan Robertson

Just as the 18th Round of Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) negotiations gets under way on the 1st June, 2016 in Geneva, Wikileaks has again been the source of a major leak on the status of these ‘secret’ negotiations.

It seems that this self-named set of ‘Really Good Friends of Services’, as they have described themselves, composed of 23 parties making up 50 countries led by the USA and the European Commission (which is the single negotiator for the 28 countries making up the European Union) has agreed to a sweeping deregulatory and political agenda that has gone further than many of us could have imagined.

In secret, Wikileaks reveals that the TISA negotiators have agreed to restrictions on state-owned enterprises arguing they need to operate like private sector businesses.   When coupled with an agreement to deregulate corporations, and mechanisms that ratchet up liberalisation whilst locking in the interests of the corporations into the future (any challenge will require that bidders will have to pay future lost earnings to these corporations), we can see that the conditions are in place for the expansion of a global capitalist market that gobbles up all before it. This includes human and political rights we thought we had to determine the shape of our public services, like education.

What  this latest TISA Wikileaks also reveals is that we should be highly circumspect of any assurance given by the negotiators that  service sectors, like education,  will be protected.

Together the TISA countries represent 70% of global trade in services, and they want to not only protect, but extend, their hold on trade in services like education as a competitive advantage, this time with ‘lock in’ and dispute settlement mechanisms that make it impossible to break their hold.  Thank you, Really Good Friends, but no thanks!

Following the challenge to, and stalling of, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) under the mandate of the World Trade Organization (WTO) by around 2005, many activist groups had felt that they had won the day.  Looking back, it is clear that this was never the case. Rather, this was only a temporary win in a longer game being played out aimed at bringing services sectors – like education and health – inside the ambit, and thus subject to the disciplines of, global trade rules.   Not to be deterred, a new cat and mouse game swung into action. A proliferation of Preferential Trade Agreements were advanced and locked in – largely bilateral in character –by the USA and the EC.IMG_0741

Source: Image by Bianca Soucek

By 2011, a combination of governments’ post-2008 crisis narratives and pressure from corporations and their peak interest groups,  set in train a new round of secret negotiations on multiple fronts. These include the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) between 12 Pacific countries dominated by the United States, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) involving the EU and the USA.

All have education in the frame as a services sector and not as a human right. If successful at securing their mission, all will remove education from the purview of people, electoral politics, and wider debates, as to the purpose of education, of how it is regulated, who gets what, and what regulatory and other devices are put into place that ensures it creates the conditions for a more equal, respectful, socially-cohesive and socially-just society.

If the Really Good Friends have their way with TISA, we will be delivered a set of regulations that will frame and shape education sectors into the future which we have not seen, not debated, not voted for, and not been consulted on, but which we cannot challenge and change. More than this, when interested parties like unions and their workers have asked about how they might be engaged as key stake-holders, the doors have been kept firmly closed.

This state of affairs is as far from processes touted as ‘democratic’ as you can imagine. Worse than this, it is uncomfortably close to authoritarian and fascist politics, and needs to be challenged, named and resisted.figure 3

 Source: Image by Susan Robertson

If education is to play a role in our societies as one of those institutions that the public has a right to hold to account because of its distributional and relational effects, then we need to resist the overtures of the Really Good Friends and name their tactics for what they are: anti-democratic, corrupt and self-serving.  We insist that public services, like education, are precisely that. Public, and ours, and need to be protected as a publicly-owned  state enterprise accountable to the people!


Editor’s Note: Susan L. Robertson is  Professor of Sociology of Education in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research is concerned with the changing nature of education as a result of transformations in the wider global, regional and local economies and societies, and the changing scales on which ideas, power and politics is negotiated. Contact: S.L.Robertson@bristol.ac.uk