Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Trade Agreement Opens Australian Universities and TAFES to Online Competition

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement was finalized in October 2015. Australia and eleven other countries, including the USA, Japan, Canada,and Singapore and Malaysia. The agreement comes into force when ratified by all the countries, or 2 years after those with 85% of the GDP sign up. A two page TPP Education Services Fact Sheet (DFAT, 12 October 2015) outlines the implications for education, including on-line courses, by Australian academics working overseas and international students. The most interesting is the way the TPP will open Australian higher education to competition from overseas institutions.

DFAT states:
"Online education presents a growing opportunity to provide greater numbers of students with flexible, high-quality and internationally-recognised skills and qualifications. ... Australian universities and vocational institutions ... will benefit from guaranteed access to most TPP markets ...". 

However, it should be noted that such arrangements are usually reciprocal, implying that universities and vocational institutions in the 12 countries will be able to offer on-line courses to Australian students. It will be interesting to see if Australian students studying at overseas institutions will receive the same access to HECS-HELP Student Loans, as at domestic campuses. Also it will be interesting to see how overseas institutions are accredited, to be the equivalent of Australian universities, and training organizations.

Limiting access to student loans, or limiting accreditation may be seen as a restriction of trade and illegal under the TPP. Australia has much stricter rules about what can be called a "university" than other countries. If overseas "universities" can market to Australian students, they will have an advantage over local institutions which cannot be called a university.

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