Three Points to Consider for Education Financing

Access and Inclusion November 04, 2014

Why global education still needs a lot more funding

I am pleased to participate in the Education Above All Plenary Session at the Sixth Annual World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE) on Wednesday, November 5, here in Doha, Qatar.

The plenary session, entitled The Unfinished Agenda, aims to explore a number of issues around the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. A cross-cutting theme will be the importance of including education as a key element in the future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially equitable access and quality learning for all children.

With the deadline for both the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Education For All (EFA) goals fast approaching, it is critical that the education community continues to mobilize to ensure that the SDGs prioritize education as fundamental to achieving progress on other development goals and as a key driver of inclusive growth and the reduction of poverty.

With the negotiations under way for a new sustainable development agenda, the time to act is now. We have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that the goals are ambitious and that we have the means to achieve them.

What have we accomplished in the past 15 years?

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) was formed in 2002 (initially as the Fast-Track Initiative) out of the commitment that no country should be unable to achieve education for all for lack of financing. Over the past decade, the Global Partnership has invested $3.9 billion for education in some of the poorest countries of the world.

We know that commitments to the EFA and MDG agendas led to increases in international aid and gave a significant boost to domestic education investments in developing countries. Consequently and happily, we saw the number of out-of-school children drop dramatically in the early 2000s.

In spite of some advances over the last dozen years, there are reasons to be concerned: progress has been stagnating, and we may even see a reversal if trends continue.

More specifically, though the number of children out of school declined from 100 million to 58 million between 2000 and 2012, reduced financing over recent years threatens to reverse those gains. Also, we know that a significant majority of out-of-school children are also the most marginalized. They live in places that are conflict-affected, are members of ethnic or religious minorities or are in rural areas that are hard to reach. 

Donor funding for education declines

The situation is exacerbated by a significant drop of donor funding to education, especially to basic education.

Although donors made a commitment to earmark as much as 0.7 percent of their gross national income (GNI) for official development assistance (ODA), they are increasingly falling far below that level and at an alarming rate. Aid to education has dropped even more dramatically, by 10 percent since 2010, or 10 times the rate of decline of overall global development aid.

And with just a little more than 400 days before the MDG deadline to achieve universal education, we are running out of time and opportunity to reverse this troubling trend. UNESCO estimates that $26 billion (US) annually are needed by 2015 to achieve the MDG goals. That might seem like a big number, but it is rather modest when you consider instead the return on investment it brings us and the cost of NOT investing: 

  • The cost of 250 million children not learning basic skills translates into a loss of an estimated annual $129 billion (US).
  • Global income loss from not providing one extra year of schooling translates to 7 to 10 percent of GDP per capita.
  • Across society, every year of schooling decreases the chance of a young person engaging in violent conflict by 20 percent.

Around 70 percent of the world’s out-of-school children live in GPE developing countries, and we have estimated that the financing needed to provide these children with a quality education is $34 billion (US) between 2015 and 2018. This funding is just to maintain the slow growth in primary school completion rates we have seen over the past years. It will take even more effort and money to get every child in school.

What more do we need to do?

At our replenishment conference last June, GPE developing country partners committed to a collective $26 billion (US) through increases in their domestic education budgets. That’s an extraordinary and an unprecedented statement by those countries confirming they are ready to invest much more in their own education systems.

In addition, GPE donor partners, including two private foundations, pledged more than $2.1 billion (US) for the GPE Fund, Recently, the Republic of Korea joined the partnership as a donor with a financial commitment of $5 million (US). We hope to welcome more new partners over the coming months.

We now have an opportunity to put ambitious financing solutions on the table, and mobilize the international community to invest. That is why the sustainable development financing process is so important for us. We need to ensure that the post-2015 development framework includes clear financial targets for domestic resources and external resources.
And it is important that there be sufficient financing for education in emergencies and for conflict-affected and fragile countries.
Three points to consider going forth:                                      
1.     Countries should allocate 6 percent of their GDP or at least 20 percent of their domestic public expenditure to education, prioritizing those most in need. Donor countries should also strengthen their financial cooperation for education, prioritizing countries most in need. Many of our partner countries are already doing this.

2.     World leaders must ensure that financing for education in emergencies increases, as nearly half of those children not in school live in fragile and conflict-affected countries and are among the hardest to help. A few donors are already aiming to allocate around 4 percent of all humanitarian aid to education.  We’d like to see more donors joining this effort.
3.     In July of next year, when the world’s leaders convene in Ethiopia for the Conference on Sustainable Development Finance, we want to see widespread support for an ambitious plan to invest in the social sectors and ensure that the global public good and service of education is available to all.
At WISE, I will challenge everyone in the room to champion this agenda, to support us to raise sufficient funds so we can build even more momentum toward the goal of quality universal primary education for every child.
It’s an ambitious goal but one that the world cannot afford not to achieve.