How to track education financial flows?
National Education Accounts (NEA) help track education financing from all sources
April 27, 2016 by Suzanne Grant Lewis, UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), and Silvia Montoya, UNESCO Institute for Statistics
9 minutes read
Girls line up outside Kanzi primary school. Gemena (Equateur province), Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: GPE / Federico Scoppa

In Nepal, parents pay for nearly half the costs of their children’s education, while government sources cover 38%, largely at the primary level, and external funding and other private sources around 14%. In Guinea, the government has designated primary education as a top priority and spends 42% of its current education budget on this level.

In Lao PDR, external funding supports the country’s drive to improve the quality of education and access to school, yet this funding remains fragmented with, for example, disbursements falling short by 63% in 2014. In Côte d’Ivoire, household contributions represented a third of the total expenditure on education in 2014.

Eight countries start tracking education financial flows

These are just a few of the statistics that emerged from newly developed national education accounts (NEA) in eight countries: Uganda, Senegal, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Nepal, Lao PDR, and Vietnam. The project they are involved with aims to produce the data needed to track the flows of education financing and target resources where they are needed most.  

Launched in 2013 with support from the Global Partnership for Education, the project is led by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) in Paris and IIEP Pôle de Dakar. The eight participating countries recently gathered at IIEP-UNESCO for the project’s final international seminar.

What is a national education account?

A NEA is a comprehensive information system that helps produce reliable and transparent data on education spending from all sources, including government, household and external funding across all education levels.

In countries without a NEA, information on education expenditures is often scattered among numerous sources, mainly because of the complexity of the funding mechanisms and the difficulties involved in collecting data sources. As a result, headline figures often vastly underestimate the real level of investment in education.

To create a NEA, information must be mobilized from a set of accounting and statistical sources. This involves mapping the resources from all public sources, not only ministries of education, but also ministries of finance, budget, youth, local government and more, as well as surveys from national statistical offices. A central framework ensures consistency between all new data added to the NEA. Information is then compiled and made coherent, leading to a set of tables that make up a NEA.

Building a NEA for the first time can take between one and two years, depending on the availability of data, and how much time the technical team can dedicate to the process. Once the basic methodology is in place however, updating the account in the following years can be done in a few weeks.

With this information, countries can assess national efforts in providing education, the share of contributions from all stakeholders, and have more accurate costs at each level of the system from pre-primary through to higher education, covering formal and non-formal education.

Why develop a national education account?

Every country – no matter its level of resources – must monitor the financial pulse of its education system. How can we expect governments to meet their policy targets if they don’t know the precise contributions to the sector of various funding sources?

By tracking financial flows, governments can better allocate resources to areas most in need and improve education efficiency and equity.

This information is also vital for donors seeking to support education plans, as well as civil society organizations, households and school organizations striving to ensure system-wide accountability in getting every child in school and learning.

NEAs can also help countries design and implement national education plans. Koffi Nguessan, from the Ministry of National Education in Côte d’Ivoire, reported that his government made a commitment to ensuring high quality free education for all children between the ages of six and 11.

We must keep in mind that reforms can be made only if there is sufficient planning and so we need to have the necessary data,” Nguessan said during the seminar. “We will put in money but NEAs can help us take stock of educational funding and help us plan better.

NEAs support evidenced-based reform

With the Education 2030 agenda in full swing, there is a growing recognition of the need for quality financing data. Implementation plans, including financial expenditures, need to be monitored. NEAs can offer considerable insight into the tracking of resources to illuminate where, how and by whom education is funded and who benefits. Without an NEA, these vital questions related to equity and quality go unanswered.

At the global level, this also poses profound challenges to institutions like the UIS, which is the official source of data to monitor progress towards Education 2030. For example, only about 50% of countries were able to report government spending on education at least once between 2012 and 2014.

Making NEAs a global practice

Modeled after the System of National Accounts methodology, this ‘satellite’ tool for the education sector is new to many countries, especially compared to other sectors such as health or agriculture. With the range of experience from the initial project, the eight countries are now helping to finalize a set of methodological guidelines to make NEAs a global practice.

The national teams are also working to institutionalize NEAs within their countries – the production, dissemination and use of data should not be a once-off activity. The exchange of experiences in implementation, as well as the sharing of analytic results and their translation into policy are important means for securing the sustainability of a NEA.

While this is an investment, understanding the financial health of an education system can lead to considerable savings down the line.    

As the National Education Accounts project comes to a close in July 2016, a number of resources will be developed. National reports with technical guidelines will be published for all eight countries, in addition to methodological guidelines to help partners and other countries implement an NEA.

To learn more about NEAs and its link to other expenditure tracking tools, see the UIS paper: A roadmap to better data on education financing.

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