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Cablegate: Usunesco: Cross-Wise On Border? New Push

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

181504Z Aug 05




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY: After a year of discussion and drafting
meetings, the UNESCO/OECD non-binding guidelines for
cross border quality provision in higher education
went before the 171st UNESCO Executive Board for its
blessing and instead got sidelined for further
discussion at the upcoming General Conference in
October. A subsequent agreement by UNESCO and the
OECD to fix procedural errors so the guidelines
could be considered for formal adoption at the 2007
General Conference fell apart in late July when
Director-General Matsuura decided instead to
recommend adopting a "secretariat" document that
incorporates the views of any member states that
felt left out of the year-long drafting process.
This about-face caught the new ADG/Education Peter
Smith off guard as the Director-General acted
without consulting him first. Matsuura did consult
with the Japanese delegation which strongly favors
the DG's approach that will opens up the text at the
General for comment by any of the 191 member states.
And this raises the possibility that those agitating
all along for a legally-binding convention instead -
such as the 29-million-member Education
International union - could get their way. END

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2. Prior to UNESCO's 171st Executive Board in April
2005, the joint UNESCO/OECD guidelines for quality
provision in cross-border higher education had wound
through a year-long drafting process at UNESCO
headquarters in Paris and at a meeting in Tokyo.
Not long before the UNESCO Executive Board began,
the OECD approved the text as it stood after the
last round of comments that ended March 15. In that
round, the U.S. offered no further suggestions, and
that was duly noted in documents considered by the

3. Before the April meeting, however, a little drama
erupted backstage at UNESCO when someone --
suggestions were that it was the Legal Adviser's
Office -- tried to change the wording of the
document before it went to the printers in ways that
would have made the guidelines more binding and
regulatory. USDel expressed displeasure when this
was learned - as did Japan - and the Secretariat
scrambled to solve the problem.

4. Going into the Executive Board's debate on the
Cross-Border guidelines, USDel's instructions were
to emphasize the voluntary nature of the guidelines
and clarify the procedures for endorsement at the
next General Conference in the fall.

5. During the debate in the program committee,
UNESCO's legal adviser said the correct procedure
had not been followed for the Board to adopt
official UNESCO guidelines and so, the Executive
Board had two options. The first would be to
recommend that the October 2005 General Conference
consider whether this issue should be subject to
"regulation," whether binding or non-binding. With
this approach, adoption of the guidelines would be
postponed until the 2007 general conference at the
earliest. Alternatively, the legal adviser said,
the Executive Board could authorize the secretariat
to adopt the guidelines and send them to relevant
institutions for consideration; but in this case -
absent a General Conference mandate -- they would
not be official UNESCO guidelines.

6. Most delegations agreed that the guidelines
should be adopted by the October 2005 General
Conference, given the urgent need to protect
students and the broad support enjoyed by this
initiative. Many states, such as Australia,
emphasized the importance of non-binding guidelines,
a theme echoed by Ambassador Oliver who also
highlighted the importance of cooperation with the
OECD (which had just approved the draft guidelines
without any attempt to alter the non-binding nature
of them.) Noting that the guidelines were meant to
be informal, rather than regulatory, the Ambassador
asked that language to that effect be included in
the draft decision.

7. Ultimately, the draft decision invited "the
Director General to inscribe on the provisional
agenda of the 33rd session of the General Conference
an item with a view to the further discussion of the
non-binding draft guidelines," according to the
UNESCO document "Decisions of the Executive Board."

8. In June, new ADG/Education Peter Smith and the
OECD's head of education Barry McGaw met and agreed
that the guidelines would proceed through a formal
process that would satisfy the UNESCO lawyers and
then return to the 2007 General Conference for
adoption by the member states.

9. In late July, however, the Director-General told
Smith that he had decided that the best approach was
to go the route of a "secretariat" document.
According to Smith, the discussion came after the
Director-General had already made his wishes known
to others in the organization and the new document
with the new draft decision was sent to press. The
lack of prior consultation with the ADG/Education
was confirmed when USDel spoke with legal advisor
John Donaldson who already knew of the DG's decision
when contacted by us. Specifically, the draft
decision, as it now stands, will invite the Director-
General to issue guidelines taking the member
states' thoughts into account.

10. Smith spoke with the OECD's Barry McGaw and came
away with the impression that this approach is
acceptable to the OECD.

11. Comment: This new development raises a number
of issues. Any way we approach this - either with a
secretariat document or by starting down the road of

formal codification at the 2007 General Conference -
there is the risk that those still agitating for
binding rules and, ideally in their eyes, a legally
binding international convention will get the upper
hand. We will now most likely hear from those who
view these guidelines as the first step toward a
convention that would block for-profit educational
providers from operating internationally and that
would interfere with educational trade issues
currently being negotiated at the World Trade
Organization (WTO). End comment.

12. One of the loudest voices agitating for a
convention is also one with the motive and the
opportunity to force a convention upon UNESCO: the
29-million-member Education International (EI) union
that claims 348 organizations in 166 countries. At
an EI "mobilization" meeting held at UNESCO in
April, Georges Haddad, the director of UNESCO's
Higher Education division, joined the line up of
speakers. One speaker called for stronger action in
what he described as a "clash of values" between
the good ("those who see education as a public
service") and the bad ("those who look at it as a
commercial service.") Comments from the participants
indicated they don't see room for both. Speakers
warned of such dangers as American-based University
of Phoenix and Sylvan learning centers that they
branded as guilty of being for-profit providers.

13. A participant from Morocco proclaimed that "EI
(Education International) must stand firm" and added
that Africa and the Arab States face the greatest
risk - a theme that others from Africa repeated
throughout the two-day discussion. Another
participant, speaking of the draft cross-border
guidelines, expressed "hope this is a stepping stone
to get a real instrument."

14. The "real instrument" they envision is spelled
out in EI's July 2004 "Resolution for a New
International Instrument for Higher Education" that
cuts a wide swath in the pattern of the on-going
cultural diversity debate. The text can be found at

15. The EI resolution ends with a call to its
members and affiliates "to prepare a draft of the
new instrument" and "to campaign and lobby for the
adoption of the new instrument."

16. There is a risk that a secretariat document
could cause the same problems as the Millennium
Development Goals where UN employees took the seven
principles approved by the member states, tacked on
a rather significant eighth goal on aid
harmonization that none of the countries debated or

17. But a positive aspect of a secretariat document
in this instance would be to keep it as informal
suggestions of best practices. Our argument all
along against binding rules has been that the
purpose of these guidelines is to share what we know
about providers of educational services through such
means as a web portal to help countries make
informed choices and to thwart rogue operators. This
is especially true in developing countries that are
most often the targets of scam operations.

18. By taking the route of a secretariat document,
we help countries strengthen their education systems
without stifling the flow of information and ideas.
We avoid two more years of discussion in the context
of formal codification and instead have what is
clearly labeled a menu of opportunities for
countries to tailor to what will help them
strengthen education in their own countries. And we
can highlight examples such as Nigeria to diffuse
the idea of a convention

19. During meetings at the Institute of
International Education Planning at UNESCO on June
13 and 14, education experts from around the world
discussed the cross-border quality issue. And during
that discussion we saw an example of the positive
outcomes that can happen when suggested good codes
of practice are made available and countries can
then tailor them to their needs -- the very point
the United States and other member states have made
in resisting those who want strict, inflexible rules
dictated to countries.

20. Peter Okebukola, the Executive Secretary of
Nigeria's National Universities Commission, said
they had been inspired by the UNESCO/OECD draft
guidelines and have already used them to develop
Nigeria's own rules for quality provision.

21. COMMENT. This further bolsters our case against
the growing trend of McConventions at UNESCO -
legally binding documents with profound implications
for the world community that are slapped together by
non-lawyers like Big Macs on a conveyor belt. UNESCO
can be encouraged to seize this as an opportunity to
get out ahead and promote these best practices,
inspiring more countries to take the initiative as
Nigeria is doing, and harnessing the collective
strength of the member states to form a flying wedge
of progress toward UNESCO's goals instead of getting
tangled in issues outside its mandate that deplete
energy, resources and credibility. END COMMENT.


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