Education services

Education plays a crucial role in fostering economic growth and development. International trade in education services has  grown significantly in recent years. In particular, higher education and "other education services", such as specialized sports training, have seen rapid growth. An increasing number of students travel abroad for study (consumers moving abroad to consume services, mode 2 of the General Agreement on Trade in Services), the number of branch campuses is growing (commercial presence by a foreign company, mode 3) and distance learning is expanding (cross-border supply, mode 1).

The sector includes primary, secondary, higher and adult education services as well as other education services.

Current market access commitments and most-favoured-nation (MFN) exemptions

Education is one of the sectors with the lowest number of WTO members' commitments under the GATS. Higher education has the highest number of commitments in this sector. Mode 3 has the highest number of limitations, including quotas on the total number of suppliers, limits on foreign capital participation, and discriminatory treatment in relation to subsidies.

Recent developments

Many countries have introduced important reforms in their education systems in recent years, allowing the entry of foreign suppliers of educational services. This is partly due to demographic changes, reforms to public funding and developments in information technology. In practice, market access conditions for higher education are more open than the level of access commitments bound in members' GATS schedules. In addition, a number of regional trade agreements (RTAs) include improved commitments on education services.

Issues of accreditation, quality assurance and recognition of foreign degrees and qualifications have also increased in importance for both suppliers and consumers of education services.

Treatment of the sector in negotiations

Education services were included in the services negotiations that began in 2000. Under the Doha Development Agenda, a plurilateral request for commitments in the sector was prepared, focusing on private higher education.

During the course of negotiations, proposals have addressed classification issues, including the delineation between “higher” and “adult” education and the inclusion of additional activities, such as training, testing and education community services. Full commitments were sought for modes 1 and 2. On mode 3, certain members were urged to take full commitments or, if this was not possible, to make any limitations on foreign equity participation time bound. On mode 4 (cross-border movement of individuals providing a service), a request was made for the inclusion of education as a separate category.

The importance of members scheduling additional commitments in relation to qualification requirements was also raised.