Cablegate: The Government of the French-Speaking Community of Belgium

DE RUEHFR #1172/01 1750621
R 230621Z JUN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

PARIS 00001172 001.3 OF 004

1. (SBU) Summary: U.S. agencies, including those involved in
international trade agreements, need to keep a careful eye on the
efforts of the government of Belgium's French-speaking community to
enlist UNESCO -- in an unhelpful way -- in the fight against
fly-by-night diploma mills in Africa and elsewhere. On May 23,
2008, the French-speaking Community of Belgium, Wallonia-Brussels,
sponsored an international seminar entitled, "The State as the
Regulator of Education". This seminar was attended by Embassy
Brussels at the request of the US Mission to UNESCO. While the
Belgian Francophones told us they were motivated by a desire to
ensure the delivery of quality education in states that lack the
resources to educate all children in public schools, particularly in
Africa, the documents they have produced thus far do not make their
ultimate goal clear. In comments made to other seminar participants
and in documents circulated in conjunction with the meeting, they
made frequent favorable references to the 2005 Convention on the
Diversity of Cultural Expressions and to the need to prevent
education from being traded as a commodity while ensuring that
children in developing countries receive culturally appropriate
education. The campaign being launched by the Belgian Francophones
recalls the early phases of the campaign which ultimately resulted
in the 2005 convention on cultural diversity. Their intentions may
become clearer in Geneva in November 2008 if they raise this issue
at the International Conference on Education. End Summary

2. (SBU) Roger Dehaybe, the former General Administrator of the
Intergovernmental Agency for Francophonie in Belgium, has approached
the U.S. Mission to UNESCO on several occasions in recent months to
discuss an initiative to encourage governments to better regulate
private education. As Dehaybe described the problem to us, African
public education systems are being deluged with large numbers of
children seeking schooling. There is no place for many of them in
these countries' over-crowded public educational systems, with the
result that many parents have no choice but to enroll their children
in private schools. In Africa, many of the latter are "for profit,"
and in Dehaybe's view deliver a bad outcome at an exorbitant cost to
parents. "They are little more than baby-sitting services," he
complained to us. He has suggested that he would like donor
countries to work with UNESCO to provide advice to African countries
on how to regulate these private operations to ensure they deliver
quality education.

3. (SBU) The US Mission has taken the position with Dehaybe and the
Belgian UNESCO Delegation that the U.S. is willing to work with
UNESCO and others to consider ways to improve educational quality in
Africa. Many African UNESCO delegations have indicated concern
about this problem.

4. (SBU) The US Mission, however, has had to question the Belgians
repeatedly about whether it is really their intention only to share
advice and best practices with African nations to address this
issue. For several months, the Belgian Francophones have been
seeking support among member delegations for a draft declaration on
this subject. The text has gone through numerous drafts and
revisions, and the Belgian Francophones have used different
rationales when explaining this initiative to other delegations.
Early drafts used language that referred to education as a public
service ("bien public") that should not be an item of commerce and
stated that education should be exempt from the rules laid down in
the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The early drafts
also made repeated references to the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the
Diversity of Cultural Expressions which the U.S. strongly opposes
and which contains language intended to permit governments to
regulate cultural issues while evading their obligations under the
rules of the World Trade Organization. Some versions of the draft
seemed to imply that private education is somehow not culturally
appropriate for children in developing countries.

5. (SBU) On May 23, 2008, the Belgian Francophones convened a
meeting in Brussels in their capacity as a member of the
international Francophone community to consider their proposed draft
declaration. (N.B. This was technically not/not a UNESCO meeting.)
We are deeply indebted to our colleagues in Embassy Brussels who
attended the meeting and contributed to this report.

6. (SBU) According to the accounts we have received, a number of
countries, (Mali, Gabon, Venezuela, Kuwait, France, Brazil and
Chile) were quite vocal in support of State regulation of private
education. Brazil even voiced concerns about the US buying private
universities in Brazil that in turn influenced students. In
addition, Ambassador Yai, the Permanent Delegate to UNESCO from
Benin and President of the UNESCO Executive Board attended the
seminar. At the end of the seminar, the participants from over 40
countries adopted the text styling it as an "appeal for action" and
calling on all governments to commit to preserving and reinforcing

PARIS 00001172 002.3 OF 004

public education that is of high quality and equitable, and making
certain that private education recognized by public authorities
responds to the same criteria. In addition, the appeal also invited
UNESCO to continue to reflect on the role of the State as the
regulator of education with the aim of placing this topic on the
agenda of the International Conference on Education (ICE) sponsored
by UNESCO in November, 2008 in Geneva. (See Para. 14 below for full
text of this document).

7. (SBU) The final version of this text, however, leaves the
Belgian Francophones' goal for this initiative still unclear.
Although some of the worst language in the earlier drafts has
disappeared (e.g., rhetoric against GATS), there is still much that
makes us uncomfortable. What action will they want after the
November ICE meeting "reflects" on this issue? Although they
vociferously deny it, we fear they are attempting to begin a process
that would lead to a new normative instrument adopted by UNESCO. Our
colleagues in the Canadian delegation agree that this appears to be
the Belgians Francophones' unacknowledged goal. If it is, the
Belgian delegation may well ask the ICE to recommend that the issue
be put on UNESCO's agenda. If that happens, UNESCO's General
Conference in October 2009 has the authority to ask the Organization
to convene a meeting to draft a new normative instrument. A similar
procedure led to the 2005 Cultural Diversity Convention.

8. (SBU) In addition to opening the door to a possible eventual
normative instrument, we have concerns about the text of this
"appeal" and how it could affect the delivery of education in
countries, particularly the United States. The text appears to
apply to all levels of education (primary, secondary and higher),
and it is universal in scope and not limited to Africa. In meetings
with the Belgian Francophones, they have specifically stated that
the goal is to target primary education but the appeal has no
references to targeting only primary education. The appeal seems to
make no distinction between for-profit and non-profit education,
referring to "private education" generally and requesting that all
governments commit to state regulation of all private education. In
addition, the continued presence of language about culturally
appropriate education implies private education (particularly
education based on the U.S. model) is somehow less likely to be
culturally appropriate and that private schools must have foreign
sponsors. Finally, there are very few references to "quality
education" which is what the Belgian Francophones have consistently
told us is the overall goal. The few references to quality in the
document imply that if the State regulates private education the
State will ensure quality. Given that education is a sovereign
responsibility and is delivered in numerous ways, the Mission is
concerned that an international normative instrument on this issue
will be at odds with how sovereign governments deliver education and
will force countries into State regulation of all private education.
Rather than improving educational quality across the board,
countries may "dumb down" private education to ensure it does not
deliver a better result than public education. Finally, there are
numerous US universities, both public and private, for-profit and
non-profit as well as US primary and secondary education
institutions that provide education abroad. The Mission is
concerned that these discussions and this appeal could also be
laying the groundwork for an attack on them with the goal of making
it difficult for them to operate.

9. (SBU) The next step in this process will be to bring attention
to the urgency of this issue at the IBE conference in November,
2008. In that vein, it is possible that an item could be submitted
by the Belgian delegation at the UNESCO fall Executive Board meeting
to request that state regulation of private education be a topic at
the ICE conference. The ICE conference takes place every four years
bringing Ministers of Education from all over the world together to
discuss a current and emerging educational topic. This year's topic
is "Inclusive Education: The Way of the Future". At the end of the
Conference, a communiqu is issued and agreed to by the
participants. This will be an opportunity for the Belgian
Francophones and others to push this initiative and move it closer
to a normative instrument. Therefore, the U.S. should oppose
having this topic placed on the ICE agenda.

10. (SBU) Note: During the Education Ministerial on the margins of
the October 2007 UNESCO General Conference, Marie Arena,
Minister-President of the French-speaking Community of Belgium,
participated in a panel session on partnerships for education and
economic development. In her remarks she noted that the IBE
Conference would be a great opportunity to reach a consensus for the
minimal rules States could adopt at the national or regional level
in order to make sure that private operators of education "respect a
certain number of values and offer all guarantees on the quality of
the rendered service".

PARIS 00001172 003.4 OF 004

11. (SBU) Among many things unclear about the Belgian Francophone
initiative is how much support it really has. Several Francophone
African states (e.g., Senegal) attended the Brussels conference and
appear to be committed supporters. Beyond this group, support is
more uncertain. As far as we know, the EU has yet to take a
position. The Canadians tell us they do not like the fact that the
Belgian text applies to higher education as well as lower
educational levels. The Indians tell us too that they are concerned
about the potential impact of this initiative on their educational
system which has a very important private element.

12. (SBU) We can, nonetheless, not rely on our partners' private
reservations to stop this train if it gains momentum. Delegations
at UNESCO tend to bend over backwards to allow other delegations to
save face, conceding more than they should. The U.S. Mission would
welcome reporting from other posts on the attitude of other
governments, if and as the Belgian Francophones continue to seek
wider support for their initiative.

13. (SBU) Comment: On June 11, 2008, Ambassador Oliver met with
Ambassador Kridelka, the Permanent Delegate of Belgium to UNESCO.
Ambassador Kridelka stated that the Ministry of Education of the
French Community is pushing this issue but the Federal Foreign
Ministry of Belgium does not want a confrontation with the United
States on this topic due to Belgium's strong desire for US support
of their candidacy to the UNESCO Executive Board in 2009.

14. (U) Following is the full English language text of the Brussels

Begin Text

The Brussels Appeal of 23 May 2008

We, the Participants in the seminar organized in Brussels on Friday
23 May 2008 concerning the State as the Regulator of Education

Recalling That

- International agreements ensure fundamental rights concerning
education, notably by adopting the following principles:
- Equal access for all and at all levels;
- Agreement on fundamental aims of education, which are to enable
all people to seek individual fulfillment, to enhance their
knowledge, and to develop their capacities to participate in
economic and social progress in their societies;

- An assurance of quality by all public and private providers.
- States and Governments should ensure quality education for all
that is offered by well-trained and respected professionals, in
particular by developing legal and regulatory means to regulate and
monitor private provision of education;

- In most countries, organizing education services implies the
existence of a diversity of public and private provision;

Aware That

- The role of the private sector in education is on the increase as
a result of:

- Higher fees for education that are borne by households;
- Financing or investment by foundations, companies and private

- With the effects of globalization, the mobility of educational
supply across borders is growing, notably through distance education
and other forms of export. In consequence, there is a risk that more
education services will be commercial goods, without consideration
for the resulting effects of increasing inequality and

- Purely profit-making private education institutions do not always
take pupils' and students' social and cultural contexts into
account, with the risk of ignoring the protection of identity or the
strengthening of cultural and linguistic diversity and social

Reaffirm that

Unregulated or poorly regulated private education can result in
higher costs and lower quality and relevance and in consequence
increased economic, social and cultural inequalities between people

PARIS 00001172 004.4 OF 004

as well as weakening of equitable access of citizens to public goods
- education and training.

Launch An Appeal For Action To:

1. Encourage Governments to commit to:

- Preserve and reinforce public education that is of high quality
and equitable, and make certain that private education recognized by
public authorities responds to the same criteria;
- Develop tools for oversight and control of educational systems
that continuously monitor the quality of educational provision, and
when necessary, take measures to ensure that quality is maintained;
- Ensure respect for the pertinence of education to linguistic and
cultural identity, to local development needs and to social
cohesion, in particular by encouraging participative management.

2. Foster an international dialogue between education and training
stakeholders notably between countries from the South, by creating a
network that could undertake to:

- Analyze private and public provision of education and assess its
impact on the respect of existing international commitments endorsed
by public authorities;
- Identify successful experience on all continents and regions by
developing research tools, collecting comparable information about
the provision, financing and results of private education (assessing
the impact of private financing of national education services,
private-public partnerships,...);

3. Reinforce multi-stakeholder partnership and in consequence
collaboration between national and international stakeholders,
including civil society and professional organizations that
contributes to the development and outcomes of decision-making tools
for governments concerning regulation of private as well as public
education and training and assist in implementing them;

4. Ensure that development partners consider internationally
recognized quality assurance as an essential component of education
reform at all levels;

5. Invite governmental and nongovernmental regional and
international organizations as well as civil society stakeholders to
support this Appeal and to collaborate actively with the
aforementioned network;

6. Invite UNESCO to continue reflection on the role of the State as
regulator of education, notably during the International Conference
on Education in Geneva (November 2008) and to facilitate exchange of
experience and expertise on this subject.

End Text.


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