26 July 2019 – During the Education International (EI) 8th World Congress, affiliated educators’ unions in Australia and the European Union issued a statement calling for the Australian government and the European Commission to be more transparent in ongoing negotiations on the potential free trade agreement and to explicitly carve out education from the negotiations.
The trade negotiations between Australia and the European Union (EU) were launched on 18 June 2018. So far, 4 rounds of negotiations have taken place. Education International and its member organisations in Australia and Europe have followed with concern these negotiations since the talks were proposed. The information about the timing of the rounds of negotiation as well as the content of the negotiations are strongly limited. There is no structure, such as a stakeholder forum, put in place for unions and civil society organisations to exchange views with the trade negotiators in connection to the rounds of negotiations.
Education International and its member organisations in Australia and Europe request to be consulted on a pro-active and continuous basis by the Australian government and the European Commission respectively regarding education related issues, including the EU-Australia trade agreement. While the Directorate General for Trade is negotiating on behalf of the European Union, it is important that other relevant Directorates General are involved and consulted, in this case in particular the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Cultureand the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.
In addition, Education International and its member organisations in Australia and Europe are calling for education to be explicitly carved out of the deal.Educators’ unions raise concerns on several aspects of the negotiations:
- Facilitating the privatisation and commercialisation of education which enhances employment precariousness in the teaching profession, leads to inequalities regarding access, completion and quality of education and jeopardises academic freedom, especially in the case of higher education.
- Digital trade/e-commerce and domestic regulations, including the potential forms that digital trade/e-commerce would merge in the provision of education services, such as different forms of online education. These services offer new opportunities but also raise potential concerns regarding personal information and data collection from students, restricted access to materials and research, and homogenization of educational materials that may result in lost local content. These rules also raise potential employment issues since the e-commerce may entice some government to shift away from local education delivery to lower cost online alternatives.
- Intellectual property provisions that could have a crucial impact on education systems. Stricter copyright rules that may have an adverse effect on education in that teachers and students face more restrictive rules in the use of materials, higher costs, and less flexibility in the classroom.
Educators’ unions believe that commercial trade rules must never restrict the ability of governments and designated public authorities to provide high-quality public services like education. The most effective way to protect high-quality education in Australia and the EU is to include a general exclusion or carve-out for education as a whole.