The World Trade Organisation deals with the formulation and implementation of international trade rules. Its objectives also include raising the standards of living in member nations, ensuring full employment and expanding the production of goods and services. A Ministerial Conference, that is held every two years, conducts the business of the WTO. The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) implies that WTO members have varying degrees of commitments in individual service sectors, like transport, education, banking and health.
At the Nairobi Ministerial Conference, slated to take place from 15th to 18th December, 2015, education is on the agenda. India is expected to sign the WTO-GATS agreement at Nairobi, according to which foreign direct investment will be permitted in the education sector. Foriegn universities will set up their campus in the country, and this entails service charges. The WTO will also be given the rights to control India’s education policy through its own accreditation body. Those opposed to this agreement claim that it transforms education into a ‘tradeable service,’ thereby commercialising an important aspect of public welfare. Once the education sector is placed within the purview of WTO norms, it is alleged that the people’s right to education will be rendered redundant, denying education to the poor.
Once it is considered a ‘commodity’ that can be traded in, the sanctity of education will be destroyed. Commercialisation of the education sector can lead to the destruction of the autonomy that academic institutions may enjoy in terms of the syllabus or academic research. Those companies that ‘trade’ in education will be wooed, and their interests protected by the government. Education will then become a ‘market,’ governed by the forces that all markets that trade in goods and services are subject to.
The mere presence of foreign universities in the country can only be beneficial, however, if the purpose of this entry into the country is business and profit, the overall quality of education in the country will only be hampered. The commodification of an essential service, and global trade in the said service, can have two consequences- in India, it can either provide Indian students access to foreign universities and their resources, or contrarily, it can lead to a decline in the overall quality of education in the country owing to unnecessary institutional and administrative influences and restrictions. Thus, India’s stand on the WTO-GATS agreement must be carefully considered, with the Indian education sector in mind.