World Trade and Higher Education: The United States' Experience with Development of Trade Policy in Higher Education under the General Agreement on Trade in Services

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2007-04-26

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This case study examined the United States' experience from April 1999 through January 2007 in development of its trade policy regarding inclusion of higher education in the World Trade Organization's (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). It examined how the key actors sought to influence the manner in which technical ambiguities, ideological differences and other points of contest were resolved. This study also examined how the actors' ability to influence these issues was conditioned by features of the decision making arenas and the broader sociocultural context. It utilized a combined political systems/power-influence model developed by Mazzoni (1991) to categorize the variables and to account for the findings. Data sources included publicly available information and interviews with individuals familar with the case (e.g., WTO officials, U.S. trade representatives, and nongovernmental organization officials). The study also outlined possibilities for future research in this ongoing policy making process.

Findings underscored the importance of the domestic arena even with regard to agreements at the supranational level. The study identified four key players in the process, all of which were U.S.-based organizations. The WTO, although responsible for setting the overall rules of the game, was a hidden or background player in this issue. In addition, agricultural interests were important hidden players; their actions were not designed to influence U.S. higher education trade policy but, nevertheless, their ability to halt trade talks twice put the policy in jeopardy.

The study also found that players' motivations and actions were tied closely to their stated organizational missions and affected when the players became involved in trying to influence the development of higher education trade policy. Professional expertise and direct channels to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative were important resources, facilitating access to the actor with the authority for developing U.S. higher education trade policy. Moreover, the study's findings underscore the subtle manner in which some issues are resolved: The use of voice through printed materials and face-to-face meetings, exercised in a collaborative rather than a confrontational manner, was an effective influence strategy for the players who were skeptical of GATS' inclusion of higher education.

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