31 October 2016

Malaysia: Budget heralds another year of brutal higher education cuts

University World News

"In another year of misery for the public higher education sector, half of Malaysia’s 20 public universities will face swingeing cuts in the coming year – some will see government funding cut back by almost a third under the latest budget announcement designed to reduce the country’s fiscal deficit amid a slowing economy."

NATURE: The plight of young scientists


"Young researchers aspire to explain the world and fix its problems — but they are increasingly finding their ambitions thwarted. The challenge comes from the scientific enterprise itself. Grants and permanent positions are scarce, and administrative burdens can be crushing. Scientists, when judged on steady funding or publication streams, pursue projects that are certain to produce a ‘publishable unit’ even if they do not address big questions. Ultimately, this is bad for science and scientists alike."

24 October 2016

The Guardian: 'It's not a victimless crime' – the murky business of buying academic essays


"This is not a victimless crime. It devalues the awards of those who are doing everything they can to complete high-quality work, and risks making degrees look worthless while hitting the reputation of those universities letting the cheats get away with it instead of actively rewarding honesty."

TheGuardian: Don't turn students into consumers


"Things get complicated when we liken students to customers. As early as 400 BC, Socrates understood that doing so was a mistake. Establishing such a relationship creates “merchants of knowledge,” as he put it, who are willing to give students what they want rather than what they need in order to keep the money flowing. Introducing this market-based exchange, explained Socrates, had a corrupting effect on the teaching and learning process. If only we had listened."

18 October 2016

Education International: Updates on various trade agreements involving education


September 2016

1.    WTO

Since the launch of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) in 2001 WTO members have not been able to reach agreement on concluding the DDA and as a result the relevance and future existence of the WTO has been questioned. Roberto Azev√™do, the WTO Director-General, has repeatedly warned of “paralysis” and “existential crisis” as many of the biggest members pursue their trade liberalisation efforts outside the WTO. The free trade agreements (FTAs) described below are a consequence of the stalemate at the WTO, which weakens the relevance of the WTO. However there are minor exceptions to the stalemate at the WTO. One is the Bali Package, which was agreed upon during the ninth Ministerial Conference in December 2013. During the tenth Ministerial Conference of December 2015 an agreement was reached on abolishing export subsidies for farm exports. However, the aim of concluding the DDA was not reached, and on the contrary WTO Member acknowledged in the Nairobi Declaration that they are divided on the future of the DDA. Recently, the focus has been heavily focused on e-commerce and it is expected that the next ministerial conference (December 2017) will focus in particular on e-commerce. The focus on e-commerce is basically due to the current state of affairs as the world is changing and it is necessary to update the rulebook on this issue. At the same time it is a topic that is comparatively new to WTO negotiators and one that has so far not been met with obstacles the way other long-standing topics of discussion have. According to Azevedo: "It's still uncertain what can be done, but I think that if we manage expectations and if we try to do things from a balanced perspective, one that includes both the interest of the advanced economies and the developing economies, I think you will see interesting outcomes." It will be crucial to monitor the WTO developments on e-commerce, especially concerning the links between education and e-commerce with the developments around e-learning and electronic education materials.

2.    Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)

The CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) negotiations between Canada and the European Union were launched in May 2009 and a deal was formally concluded in October 2014. The signature of CETA is planned for the 27 October 2016 during the EU-Canada Summit to take place in Brussels. During the informal trade meeting of the European Union on 23 September it was agreed that a draft joint declaration on the delivery of public services, labour rights and environmental protection in relation to CETA will be presented to the EU Member States on 12 October prior to the Trade Council meeting on 18 October, where Trade Ministers are expected to approve CETA. The European Commission submitted CETA to the Council for approval in July this year. The European Commission proposed CETA as a mixed agreement to be provisionally applied after the Council’s approval and the consent of the European Parliament (EP) has been received. The consolidated legally scrubbed CETA text has been published on EC website in all official EU languages. The Canadian government is promoting CETA, however it is much more open to meetings and consultations with unions than the previous government. The ratification process is expected to be quick in Canada as the Canadian Constitution gives the federal government sole jurisdiction over the regulation of trade and commerce.

The CETA agreement is the template for the more contentious TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) negotiations. CETA is therefore also a test case for other similar trade agreements, including TTIP, being negotiated at the moment. Accordingly, it would be difficult to argue against TTIP and other similar agreements if CETA is ratified. CETA itself includes a number of issues of serious concern in general and for the provision of public services, including education, in particular. CETA includes, among other things, the controversial, but reformed ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) mechanism renamed as the investment court system, the standstill and “ratchet” clause that lock-in existing levels of liberalisation, new restrictions on regulatory measures, and new rules on government procurement. Services are a major component in CETA and this part of the agreement took considerable time to negotiate. The EU has made significant commitments in privately funded education services, even if the commitments vary slightly between Member States because of specific exemptions taken. As a result, the EU and its Member States are effectively opening the door to foreign for-profit education providers and are extending new rights to private investors that go beyond any existing trade commitments. A related problem of including privately funded education services into trade agreements originate from the mixed public and private characteristic of most education systems. Furthermore, there is not a single reference to any exception for public services or Services of General Interest from the scope of the agreement, only to governmental authority that is not adequate to protect public services like education. Consequently, CETA threatens to lock-in and to intensify the pressures of privatisation and commercialisation of education.   

The EP adopted its recommendations on CETA in 2011 where it calls for a State-to-State dispute settlement mechanism and the use of local judicial remedies to address investment disputes given the developed legal systems of Canada and the EU. A study comparing the CETA agreement with the EP’s TTIP recommendations demonstrates that CETA deviates significantly from the EP’s TTIP recommendations. The EP is waiting for the Council’s approval of CETA before it starts its own procedure. The EP debate on CETA may already begin this autumn with a possible vote in early 2017.

3.    Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA)

The negotiations on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) were proposed by the US and Australia in early 2012 and began in 2013. TiSA negotiations arose in response to the ongoing impasse in WTO negotiations, including talks to expand the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The participants call themselves the "Really Good Friends of Services" and are the strongest advocates of service liberalisation. 20 rounds of negotiations have taken place since so far. The last round of negotiations took place in the week of 19 September. The next round of negotiations was originally scheduled for the week of 7 November, however in an attempt to finish the negotiations before the end of the Obama administration the Parties are now aiming to conclude the agreement by 5-6 December with a round of negotiations in mid-October. The negotiations had initially drawn out, however according to EC’s report of the 19th round of negotiations TiSA participants undertook a stocktaking exercise and updated the work plan aiming at the conclusion of the negotiations by the end of the year. The revised offers tabled in May this year were discussed during the 19th round and a second revision of the offers are scheduled for October. Furthermore, some Parties presented complementary analyses in relation to private education, legal services and new services and mode 4. The TiSA participants include the EU, Australia, Canada, Chile, Taiwan, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey and the US. Uruguay and Paraguay left the negotiations in 2015. In the case of Uruguay it was due to public opposition to the potential serious consequences of TiSA.

The negotiations are held in secret and details on the proposed TiSA are therefore very limited. However, following a number of TiSA leaks, the European Commission created a dedicated page on TiSA in an attempt to increase transparency. However, the fact remains that TiSA is one of the most secret trade negotiations. In the EU the TiSA mandate was only published roughly 2 years after its adoption. The EC has published the EU’s initial services offer (2013) and the revised services offer (2016) on a dedicated TiSA page. Both services offers includes significant commitments in privately-funded education services, even if the commitments vary slightly between EU Member States because of specific exemptions taken. As a result, the EU and its Member States are effectively opening the door to foreign for-profit education providers. It is worrying that the European Commission has requested Member States to reconsider and limits their reservations taken in CETA for TiSA (and TTIP) negotiations. In the EU’s proposed core text provisions there is not a single reference to any exception for public services or Services of General Interest from the scope of the agreement. In the EU’s revised services offer the definition of public education has been changed and is now aligned with the more comprehensive[1] definition in CETA. In the first TiSA services offer it referred only to “public education”.

Another problematic issue concerns the EU’s public utilities reservation, which lacks a clear definition[2]. The lack of clarity of the public utilities reservation put the education sector in a vulnerable situation because it is not included in any of examples listed in the public utilities reservation. Furthermore, from the EU-Singapore the EU does not seem to consider education a public utility as there is no footnote to the public utility clause in privately-funded education services, whereas this is the case for other public services including health and social services. Another point concerns the linkage between education services and e-commerce, which becomes increasing important with the developments around e-learning and electronic education materials.

The European Parliament adopted its TiSA recommendations on 3rd February 2016. The recommendations underlined the need for the exclusion of “current and future services of general interest and services of general economic interest from the scope of application of the agreement (including, but not limited to, water, health, social services, social security systems and education, waste management and public transport)”. The EP reiterated that the European Union, national and local authorities should retain the full right to introduce, adopt, maintain, or repeal any measures with regard to the commissioning, organisation, funding, and provision of public services. The EP also stated that this exclusion should be applied irrespective of how the public services are provided and funded. It also called on the European Commission to recognise the significant importance attached by European citizens to high-quality public services that contribute to social and territorial cohesion. The EP further demands for the introduction of an unequivocal ‘gold standard’ clause. This clause could be included in all trade agreements and would ensure that the public utilities clause applies to all modes of supply and to any services considered to be public services by European, national or regional authorities, in any sector and irrespective of the service's monopoly status. This would include education, which was not previous the case. With just a few votes, the recommendations  rejected the inclusion of standstill and ratchet clauses that would make it impossible to reverse past liberalisations and lead to ever-increasing levels of liberalisation. The EP calls for enough flexibility to bring services of general economic interest back into public control; and maintain the right of the EU and Member States to modify their level of liberalisation.
4.    Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive trade and investment agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. The talks are intended to reduce or eliminate barriers to trade in goods and services, guarantee investor rights, and promote regulatory cooperation. The TTIP negotiations were initiated in July 2013 and 14 rounds of negotiations have taken place since. The last round of negotiations took place in Brussels on 11-15 July and the next round is scheduled for 3-7 October. The negotiations have drawn out and recently a number of Ministers from EU Member States voiced their frustration with the TTIP negotiations and suggested either to suspend or relaunch the negotiations under a different name. However, it is too early to declare the negotiations dead and the EC has indicated interest in further rounds in the coming months, however it has recognised that the negotiations are unlikely to be finalised under the Obama administration. Due to the US election in November the negotiations are likely to go into a zombie mode until the next administration has been installed. The groundwork for negotiators began in 2011 when the EU and the US established the Higher Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth. Its mandate was to explore the feasibility and potential benefits of a comprehensive trade agreement covering all sectors. The working group concluded its mandate by recommending the launch of formal talks.

ISDS is so far the most controversial issue. The critiques of ISDS stress that modern democratic societies have developed ways to separate power, i.e. between the legislature, government, and courts. In contrast, ISDS concentrates power. The ISDS system gives arbitrators the power to review all decisions by legislatures, governments, and courts, and importantly it does not observe the separation of powers, it lacks basic institutional safeguards of judicial independence, and ultimately undermines democratic decision-making. The EC launched a public consultation on ISDS in TTIP in March 2014. The EC’s long anticipated report on the public consultation on ISDS in TTIP was published on 13 January 2015. The report presented an analysis of the almost 150.000 submissions received to the public consultation, of which 97% of the replies were opposed to the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP or generally against TTIP. The EC has published a legal proposal for an investment court system in TTIP. This would mean that a public Investment Court System composed of a first instance Tribunal and an Appeal Tribunal would be set up instead of the Investor-to-State dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism in the case of TTIP. While the proposal is an improvement compared to the classic ISDS mechanism, the principles of the investment court system remains the same as the ISDS mechanism and consequently the investment court system is available only to foreign investors and thereby gives foreign investors special rights that are not available to citizens and domestic investors. In addition, the US has expressed its reservations with the proposal of establishing an investment court system.

The ETUCE Statement on Investment Protection in EU Investment agreement stresses that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is a flawed mechanism, which is contradictory to and limiting on the right to regulate. It raises specific concerns in respect to the education sector. Private companies could in the future challenge the quality and accreditation standards through ISDS if they felt these standards were "disguised barriers to trade" or "more burdensome than necessary". As emphasised in the statement: "These quality and accreditation standards are crucial to ensure the quality of education and therefore ISDS poses very significant risks to the education sector and democratic decision-making in general". More detailed information on the problems of ISDS is available in the study “Modalities for investment protection and Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in TTIP from a trade union perspective”.

Revised services offers were exchanged in July 2015 and currently under discussion. According to the EC report of the 14th round of negotiations the Parties exchanged factual information on the scope of their offers. Domestic regulation and mutual recognition agreements were discussed too and in the EU there is an ongoing consultation with Member States. It is not evident whether the disagreement on the listing approach has been solved. The US traditionally uses the negative list approach, while the EU traditionally uses the positive list approach, but the EU’s services offer is based on a hybrid approach consisting of a negative list regarding national treatment and a positive list regarding market access. The European Commission published its revised services offer on 31 July 2015, however the European Commission has stated that they expect that majority of the changes will come later in the negotiations. The framework agreement of the EU’s offer covers a very broad range of services, while there is not a single reference to any exception for public services or Services of General Interest from the scope of the agreement, only to governmental authority which is not adequate to protect public services like education. In contrast, the framework agreement repeatedly mentions that measures should “not be more burdensome than necessary”. In addition, the services offer includes 3 annexes. Annex 1 and 2 applies the negative list and annex 3 applies the positive list. The reservation on public education (see footnote 1 on page 3) is a better definition than the one included in GATS, however the protection may still be limited due to its location in the annexes rather than in the framework agreement. A proper carve-out in the framework agreement would apply to annexes and later revisions and thereby yield better protection to public services, including education.  

TTIP intends to include substantial regulatory cooperation including new rules, standards and procedures in a number of areas not covered by other trade agreements. There is also a proposal to establish a Regulatory Cooperation Body (RCB). This body would bring together representatives of regulatory agencies in the EU and US to monitor the implementation of commitments made and consider new priorities for regulatory cooperation including joint development of  future regulations. The European Commission claims that the negotiators will establish the framework of such a regulatory cooperation and that regulators will do the "technical work". Nevertheless, the proposal would mean that the Cooperation Council would consider both new legislation and non-legislative acts. The regulatory cooperation could potentially imply potential serious implications for the education sector as the regulatory cooperation intends to cover authorisation, licensing and qualification requirements.

The European Parliament (EP) adopted with clear majority its TTIP recommendations on 8 July 2015. The Committee on international trade (INTA) was responsible for drafting the recommendations, but 14 other committees, including the Committee on Culture and Education, were involved in the process.

5.    Trans-Pacific  Partnership (TPP)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a comprehensive trade and investment agreement covering 40% of the global economy. The TPP was concluded on 5th October 2015 after more than 5 years of secret negotiations. On 5th November 2015, the full TPP text was released and on 26 January 2016 the legally verified TTP text was published. The following 12 countries are involved: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam. 

TPP poses potential serious impacts on the education sector based on an analysis of the final text. Firstly, there is no explicit carve-out of education, thereby exposing the sector to greater privatisation and commercialisation and threatening free, public, and high-quality education. The TPP also places new restrictive rules on intellectual property, and includes the controversial ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) mechanism that gives foreign investors exclusive rights to challenge domestic laws and regulations, which they feel are unfavourable to their business, before private arbitration panels. For more information see the EI Briefing Note on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

It is not evident that TPP will pass the US Congress, in particular not before the November 2016 presidential election. Accordingly, other TPP countries are also inclined to wait he outcome of the US presidential elections.

[1] It reads “The EU reserves the right to adopt or maintain any measure with regard to the provision of all education services which receive public funding or State support in any form, and are therefore not considered to be privately funded.
The EU, except CZ, NL, SE, SK, reserves the right to adopt or maintain any measure with respect to the provision of privately funded other education services (CPC 929), which means other than those classified as being primary, secondary, higher and adult education services.
Where the provision of privately funded education services by a foreign provider is permitted, participation of private operators in the education system may be subject to concession allocated on a non-discriminatory basis. ” 
[2] “In all Member States, services considered as public utilities at a national or local level may be subject to public monopolies or to exclusive rights granted to private operators.
Public utilities exists in sectors such as related scientific and technical consulting services, R&D services on social science and humanities, technical testing and analysis services, environmental services, health services, transport services and services auxiliary to all modes of transport. Exclusive rights on such services are often granted to private operators, for instance operators with concessions from public authorities, subject to specific service obligations. Given that public utilities often also exist at the sub-central level, detailed and exhaustive sector-specific scheduling is not practical.
This reservation does not apply to telecommunications and to computer and related services.”  

13 October 2016

The Star: Rankled by ranking exercises



Ranking exercises measure the measurable. They ignore many in­tan­­gibles that should be at the heart of university education like the infusion of ideals and values, the building of character, and the in­­volvement of the staff and students in community service.

As all public universities in Malaysia receive the bulk of their money from Parliament, this is the oft-given justification for tight political and bureaucratic control over them. But in law, public universities are not government departments but independent statutory bodies.
Their separate legal personality is written into their parent law and must be respected by the federal education bureaucracy.

There is clearly a need for more university autonomy. This suggestion is not novel. In the pre-university and University Colleges Act (AUKU) days the existing law for the University of Malaya allowed the university wide latitude for self-government. We need to return to the pre-AUKU days.

06 October 2016

Nature: Corporate culture has no place in academia



"Yet this conduct goes against fundamental values of academia —  the careful scrutiny of all claims, and of the research (and teaching) portfolios of those making such claims. This core principle in the self-organization of the academic system (studied by sociologists Robert Merton and Pierre Bourdieu, among others) is intended to guarantee that science progresses and delivers knowledge and technology to society that is as accurate as possible and not gained unethically.
Academic capitalism runs counter to these ideals, subsuming achievement in research and teaching to attainment of economic goals and quantitatively oriented (and shallow) performance assessments and rankings. Academic self-regulation and vocational autonomy are replaced with external control by audit and management. The individual’s struggle for recognition in science is colonized by university managers, who use the achievements of scientists and students to accumulate capital (economic, symbolic and cultural, in Bourdieu’s terms), and thus increase the visibility of their university"


Report of the 2016 Scholars-at-Risk Global Congress


SAR is pleased to share the report of our eighth Global Congress, held June 7-10 in Montreal, Canada in partnership with the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, McGill Faculty of Law, and SAR Canada Section.

More than 180 university and nonprofit leaders, faculty, staff, students and advocates from 37 countries came together to discuss seminal issues facing higher education today, including facing threats to physical security and core values on university campuses, supporting higher education in the refugee crisis, and promoting values in international partnerships.
The Congress came at a crucial moment, when attacks on scholars are at record levels and more scholars than ever are reaching out to SAR for assistance (see page 7 for a visualization of the extraordinary increase in demand for SAR’s protection services).