Based on a seminar and press conference addressed by Prof. Anil Sadgopal on Nov 30, 2015
The negotiations around WTO GATS have been pending since the Doha conference in 2005. This was largely because of the roadblocks that came in the way due to various disputes over agricultural subsidies. These negotiations are speculated to be completed in the forthcoming conference in Nairobi, which is scheduled in mid december.
In August 2005, India agreed to subjecting its education sector to WTO GATS paradigm. It is suspected to sign along dotted lines in the next WTO GATS conference on December 15th . If this goes unchallenged, it will bind higher education in framework of GATS. This implies that education will be treated as a ‘service’ and a tradeable commodity. This stands contrary to the rights based paradigm of education. If education starts being treated as a commodity, students will be reduced to customers while universities and colleges will be begin to be treated as service providers for education. The objective of these service providers will be to maximise profits as opposed to providing education. Under GATS, governments will be forced to create a ‘level playing field for education’. While such an objective is desirable, but the level playing field in this case refers to corporate investors-foreign or Indian. This can have an extremely detrimental effect on funding and subsidies awarded to the state run universities in India. For instance, if government chooses to give a 50 crore subsidy to Madras University, it will be forced to do so for all the foreign and private universities in this paradigm. Since such a measure would be impractical, it will disable government from funding universities through subsidies. As a consequence, all courses will slowly start moving towards the self financing model. If there is a course on Philosophy or Tamil literature, they risk being shut down for financial reasons. Courses that are not economically viable which includes basic sciences also face the same risk. Only applied sciences might safely survive this risk.
An implication of that would mean that knowledge production in sciences and social sciences, will turn into a monopoly of advanced capitalist societies. With further regulations about intellectual property rights, it can have a disastrous consequence for the developing nations. It is not just an attack on institutional structure, it will be an attack on character of knowledge to provide to our students.
There are further domestic regulations under GATS, which will ensure that no government will be allowed to make a scheme which is detrimental to private capital (in this case, global capital). This is bound to be monitored by an organisation called TPRB (Trade Policy Review Body).
Social justice agenda, which is enshrined in the article 16 of the constitution will suffer, in the interest of promotion of capital. The whole agenda of providing stipends, scholarships, hostels and other amenities to the oppressed and marginalised sections of society such as dalits, tribals, backward classes and women, will risk the danger of being derailed since they may not be profit worthy. Its extremely likely that they will be replaced with loans. Adverse affects of student loans are well documented from the experience of US universities. Even in the Indian context, RBI pointed out that a bulk of the student loans were never paid back. This has happened because of the years of jobless growth.
There is a further danger to the institutional structure of university monitoring. It has already been suggested by Sam Pitroda and Yash Pal Committee report that an Independent Regulatory Authorities should be set up for education. There is a grave danger that these authorities may not even by democratically held accountable through parliament.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of information about trade negotiations around GATS still remains a secret. No public consultation process has ever been initiated. Even AIFRTE managed to get information about WTO GATS with great difficulty. It was brought out be the Andhra Pradesh Save Education campaign in October 2005 by searching through the website. First essay on this issue, were prepared in Telugu. Whatever we know today because of this, is all due to translations of this initial essay from Telugu and the resource material they managed to find. Because Andhra Pradesh Save Education was a member in AIFRTE, it took up the issue. There were two parliament rallies against GATS in February 2010 and later in October 2013. In 2014, an all india jatra for common school system was held in Bhopal and WTO GATS was central issue there.
Despite these protests, nobody was willing to meet anyone who raised these issues. One can only imagine the state of affairs, after India signs GATS on December 15.
The struggle is still on. AIFRTE managed a signature campaign, in which lakhs of students signed against GATS. AIFRTE demands the Government of India to withdraw from WTO GATS before 15th December.