India’s higher education regulators are proposing new rules to combat an influx of low-quality, private higher education providers into the country.
Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat, chairman of India’s University Grants Commission, announced in late November that he was considering prohibiting commercial foreign institutions from operating.
“India does not believe in commercial gain in this endeavour, as our ultimate aim is the strict adherence to human rights in terms of providing education to the needy,” Thorat told The Hindu.
However, the proposed prohibition on commercial higher education would run afoul of GATS rules, according to EI.
In a letter sent to Prof. Thorat, EI said that it supports India’s initiative to limit the commercial provision of higher education in order to protect quality and accessibility, but warns there is an inconsistency between India’s regulatory objectives and its position in the GATS negotiations.
“Your plan to regulate foreign commercial providers is at odds with India’s current position in the GATS negotiations,” EI wrote. “Indian negotiators have indicated to us that your government is likely to take GATS commitments in higher education services. If India were to take commitments in higher education services, a restriction on commercial higher education providers would be illegal under the GATS as it would represent a limitation on the activities of a specific ‘type of legal entity’ – in this case, for-profit companies and institutions.”
Monique Fouilhoux, EI Deputy General Secretary, said this was a clear case of how GATS rules can work against domestic policy objectives.
“Trade ministries are often making decisions on matters such as education without considering the full impact of trade rules,” she said. “It underlines the importance for governments such as India to take a precautionary approach and not to include education and other vital public services in trade agreements like the GATS.”