A National Education Account (NEA) aims to draw a complete picture of how a country finances education.
Through implementing a structured methodology, the NEA organizes multiple data from key funding sources – public, private and external donors– in a compatible, sustainable way.
The information is then used to help identify gaps, overlaps or misuse in the ways in which education is funded, helping to better direct resources to policy objectives and assist in international monitoring of progress towards the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4).
A new frontier in education financing
Many countries have struggled with understanding education financial flows. Now, an ongoing international project to develop NEAs in eight countries with an accompanying global methodology is changing the course of how countries gather, analyze and report on education financing data.
Many education officers and policy-makers involved in the project have said this is welcome as NEAs play an important role in evidence-based planning and budgeting for education goals and targets.
With support from GPE, the project is jointly led by the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) with the Pôle de Dakar and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).
Three countries launch NEAs
Over the past two months, three countries participating in the project have begun to come under the spotlight. Senegal, Uganda and the Lao’s People Democratic Republic have held national launches for their NEAs.
These events have already begun to demonstrate the powerful impact this kind of information system can have on the overall economy of an education system and in shaping policy priorities to meet country needs.
The other five countries involved in the project – Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Nepal, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire– are also gearing up for similar launches.
NEA data as a catalyst for change in Lao PDR
With the launch, local education officials in Lao PDR were given an unprecedented look into the reality of education financing in their country.
In particular, the NEA process revealed that the country was not meeting the internationally suggested benchmark of 6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 20% of government expenditure being devoted to education.
Only 3.6% of the GDP (equivalent to 12.6% of government expenditure) has gone towards the sector, largely because donor support has fallen in recent years from 24% in 2009 to 7% in 2014 and a lack of prioritizing education in government policies and budget allocation.
As a consequence of the launch, the Ministry of Education said that it would present the NEA findings to the National Assembly for appropriate action.
A call to action in Uganda
Uganda is ramping up its effort to understand the adequacy of the resources it is devoting to education through the NEA process.
The launch highlighted the surprising finding that Ugandan households are shouldering nearly half the costs of education despite a national drive to provide free education.
One consequence of this is that some low-income households may face difficulties sending their children to school.
The launch also set the foundation for the NEA to play a key role in the country’s drive to become a middle-income country by 2020.
It is hoped that improved planning, management and resource mobilization – through the knowledge provided by the NEA – will help the country lift its educational outcomes and ultimately economic prospects.
However, new education financing data brought to the forefront through the NEA can only fulfill its role if it’s supplied by education actors.
The NEA process highlighted challenges in getting all sources to provide data, especially development partners, private education institutions and non-governmental organizations.
As a result, district Education Officers have now called on all schools, including both public and private, and other education development partners to provide education funding data for future updates of the NEA, which could help to improve educational planning, budgeting and resource allocations.
Harmonizing educational priorities in Senegal
In Senegal, the NEA launch brought to the forefront the country’s imbalanced education financing structure and low fiscal pressure (around 20%), highlighting the need for an urgent reform of its fiscal policy.
For example, the government spends 12 times more on higher education students than those in primary or lower and upper secondary, despite these lower levels of education accounting for nearly 87% of the total enrollment.
With nearly 90% of the budget going to teacher and non-teacher salaries at the primary and secondary levels, there are also few resources left for investing in teaching and learning materials.
These types of imbalances help explain some of Senegal’s challenges in financing education and meeting current educational needs. However, reform could be on the horizon: education officials are now building on evidence revealed during the NEA process to improve the equity and efficiency of resources allocated to education.
The three launches have demonstrated the significant potential of a National Education Account to provide an improved basis for planning and implementing education reforms in developing countries.
The project’s next steps will include both national reports on all eight countries and methodological guidelines to help partners and other countries implement a NEA on their own.
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