The Global Student Movement Demands Tax Justice For Education

19 April 2023

For decades the student movement has demanded quality, universal and free public education; however, student representatives have often seen their demands neglected by politicians hiding behind the excuse of insufficient available funding.

Throughout February and March 2023, the international student movement coming together under the umbrella of the Global Student Forum (GSF) joined forces with Action Aid and the TaxEd Alliance to hold a three-session capacity-building program focusing on the need for tax justice to improve education financing.

The GSF training sessions sought to build the capacity of activists on the basics of tax justice in order for them to analyze the hurdles their countries must overcome on the path to more equitable and effective financing of education. Throughout the sessions, participants reflected on their regional experiences and established a working group tasked with solidifying a common agenda for the global student movement’s advocacy efforts on tax justice. Below are some of the main takeaways expressed by student representatives.

Strengthen the public

The achievement of all Sustainable Development Goals depend on our governments’ capacity to provide basic public services such as healthcare and education, in order to uphold human rights, reduce inequalities and provide citizens with the opportunity to participate in and defend democratic governance.

SDG4 on quality education will not be realized by 2030 without a significant and well-targeted increase in financing, particularly in those countries furthest from achieving quality education for all at all levels. The needed investments are only possible if governments manage to mobilize national funds and strengthen public education systems. However, governments keep failing to perceive education as a long-term investment and regard it as an expenditure whenever a crisis hits.

Why tax?

Tax justice gives governments the opportunity to strengthen all public services, not only education. It is through tax justice that national governments can take back control of an education sector that has been continuously undermined by commodification trends.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a considerable increase in the number of for-profit actors in education and exacerbated existing inequalities worldwide. The pandemic’s impact on education budgets is an often-ignored issue with far-reaching consequences. National education budgets were reduced, public debt increased to worrying levels and an already under-financed education sector was left in a precarious and neglected state. It is precisely this worrisome context that forces the student movement to join the growing calls for tax justice.

Addressing the elephants in the room

Today’s global tax system is based on a colonial worldview where natural and financial resources are extracted with impunity from developing countries in order to be hoarded into non-productive wealth, to a degree never seen before in history.

Across regions, student movements have denounced the role of big multinationals in exploiting tax loopholes and promoting corruption in order to avoid their tax responsibilities. Multinationals, tech companies, and the private sector as a whole are necessary allies in education but it seems that they have for decades (purposefully) misunderstood their role. As business actors, their role isn’t to run philanthropic education initiatives but rather to fully pay their taxes to sustain public education. The student movement globally stands together against tax privileges and preferential treatment to big corporations.

In order to achieve tax justice, it is important for all actors that impact financial decisions to understand the consequences of their actions. The greatest absentee in this regard is the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is time for the IMF to acknowledge the harmful consequences that austerity measures have had on the education sector for decades, and for Ministers of Finance to be more critical of the IMF’s recommendations and oppose them, when they aren’t evidence-driven. Instead of insisting on ideologically shaped policies, the IMF needs to shift its focus and support the strengthening of national tax systems and the implementation of progressive taxation.

However, action at the national level isn’t enough. Through its regional and global bodies, the student movement will support the enactment of international reforms in order to achieve a fairer global tax system. This includes global action on tax loopholes through the implementation of a UN convention on tax, agreements on a global asset register, the reduction of illicit financial flows and decisive action against tax heavens.

The student movement acknowledges that the time has come to make tax justice a political priority and calls on education coalitions to include tax issues on their agenda, if they are not doing so yet. Increasing the funds available for investment in education is the first of many steps towards achieving universal quality education at all levels. The student movement will be vigilant to ensure that new funds are invested efficiently and equitably – funds should not be lost to corruption and they should prioritize historically disadvantaged groups in order to fully harness the potential of education in breaking cycles of inequality and poverty.

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