Aid Reductions Threaten Education Goals
A new paper by the EFA Global Monitoring Report team shows that aid to education has fallen by a tenth since 2010.
June 11, 2014 by Aaron Benavot, Global Education Monitoring Report
8 minutes read
Credit: World Bank/Arne Hoel

A new paper by the EFA Global Monitoring Report team shows that aid to education has fallen by a tenth since 2010. Unless this decline is reversed, the likelihood of reaching new global education goals is put at great risk, even with deadlines extended to 2030.

The new paper shows that aid to basic education – which enables children to acquire foundational skills and core knowledge – is back at 2008 levels. We have released the paper two weeks before the Replenishment Pledging Conference for the Global Partnership for Education, to help build the case for investment. With aid continuing to decline, and an annual $38 billion finance gap for primary and lower secondary education, all eyes will be on donors at the conference in Brussels on June 25 and 26.

Despite scepticism in some quarters about the need for aid, some countries still rely hugely on development assistance. Such cuts will have devastating consequences for their education systems. While national spending still provides the most important contribution, aid accounted for more than a quarter of public spending on education in at least 12 countries. Aid cuts threaten to pull the rug from under entire education systems.

Aid is a major source of education funding for poor countries

Donor spending as a share of total public spending on education, 2012

Source: EFA Global Monitoring Report team analysis based on OECD Creditor Reporting System and Development Finance International (2014)

Although education assistance is still so important for many countries, the 10% cut in aid to the sector is far higher than the 1% cut in overall aid, indicating that donors are deprioritising education. Education’s share of total aid fell from 10.2% in 2009 to 8.7% in 2012. By contrast, health’s share increased from 13% to 14% over the same period.[i]

Basic education is hit hardest

These cuts have hit basic education the hardest, especially in South and West Asia, which lost over a quarter of its aid between 2010 and 2012. Sub-Saharan Africa – home to over half of the world’s out of school children – also saw its aid stagnate, with 12 countries experiencing cuts of $10 million or more.[ii]

These changes are due to large shifts in the aid landscape. Compared with 2010, 28 out of 42 donors allocated less to basic education in 2012. The Netherlands, for instance, disbursed almost US$200 million less in 2012 than in 2010. Only two donors who were among the top 10 funders in both 2010 and 2012 – the United Kingdom and the United States – increased the amounts they disbursed to basic education.

To obtain a full picture of aid to education, we have analysed humanitarian and development aid together. Contrary to a common perception that humanitarian aid acts as a short-term gap filler, it often represents a large share of total aid, making up 23% of external financing in the 21 countries with common humanitarian appeals in 2012.

However, humanitarian aid makes up only a small share of the external financing for education: The sector received only 2% of humanitarian appeals in 2013 – a long way from the modest 4% target set by the United Nations last year.

We need to reverse the downward trend

Education is suffering a double disadvantage: not only is it receiving the smallest proportion of humanitarian appeals, but it is also receiving the smallest proportion of the requests that it makes for funding: in 2013 education received only 40% of the humanitarian funds it called for, compared with 86% for the food sector, and 57% for health.

Signs for the future are no more encouraging. According to the OECD, total aid increased by 6% between 2012 and 2013 but will stagnate from 2014 onwards. The increase between 2012 and 2013 was primarily for middle income countries, and largely through concessional loans from multilateral institutions and bilateral donors, which the 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report showed often leave countries in dangerous debt. The projections point to a reduction in aid for many of the poorest countries, primarily those in sub-Saharan Africa. Assuming that the share of total aid allocated to education remains similar to the share allocated since 2010, falls in overall aid levels pose a considerable risk to education progress.

In such a volatile environment, the EFA Global Monitoring Report team will be presenting at the Global Partnership for Education’s pledging conference in two weeks’ time alongside Action Aid, Oxfam, Save the Children and many others, to emphasize how important it is for countries to tap their tax base and devote an adequate share of their revenue to education. This move could go a long way towards bridging the education financing gap, and could reduce reliance on aid.

While strong country commitment to improving access and quality in education is important, our new paper shows that many of the poorest countries will still need education aid for some years to come. Donors must recognize this at the Brussels conference. Unless they put education back at the top of their agenda, new global education goals will become empty promises, and millions of children’s hopes of schooling will be dashed.

[i] Total development aid excludes debt relief.

[ii] Country-level data on aid to education should be carefully interpreted as many donors report aid in “bilateral unspecified” or “regional” terms rather than linked to countries themselves

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