Niger: Using national systems to transform the education system

In Niger, the GPE grant, channeled through the Education Sector Pooled Fund, is aligned with national priorities. Transparently managed and responsive to the country’s particularities, this approach is steadily improving the performance of the Nigerien education system in the long-run in terms of equity, learning outcomes, and efficiency.

December 07, 2021 by Audrey Martinenq-Duplessis, Agence Française de Développement, and Ed Lamot, GPE Secretariat
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5 minutes read
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Students in class at the Kurakano School in Niger. Credit: GPE
Students in class at the Kurakano School in Niger.
Credit: GPE

The Education Sector Pooled Fund (FCSE) was set up in Niger in July 2017 to channel external financing to support the implementation of the education sector plan. FCSE’s objective is also to accelerate reforms and results in the sector.

The FCSE is a funding mechanism aligned with Niger’s national systems. It covers all the ministries responsible for education and training. Although the FCSE’s resources are implemented through the national public financial management expenditure system, they are not fungible with regular government resources, but are held in ringfenced sub-accounts at Treasury.

Greater budget transparency for better resource management

Special FCSE budget lines are written in the annual national budget, making each earmarked activity and item of expenditure traceable and accountable.

The annual operational sector planning and reporting framework is set up to capture all the education expenditures funded by domestic resources, the FCSE, and partners’ off-budget projects, thereby providing a comprehensive steering of the education system.

“The FCSE has allowed us to pool the resources of a number of partners to work for our priorities in the sector. We hope to see that momentum continue.”

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry for Education (MEN)

A partnership approach for constructive stakeholder dialogue

A number of partners contribute to the FCSE: the Luxembourg Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UNICEF, Norway, and the Agence française de développement (AFD). AFD is also a GPE grant agent in Niger channeling GPE resources through the FCSE.

“This partnership arrangement makes for a constructive, rounded dialogue between partners and government to enhance the coordination and effectiveness of support in the sector,” notes Johan Meyer Kristian of the Royal Norwegian Embassy based in Bamako in charge of monitoring the FCSE in Niger.

The full integration of the FCSE within the national budget and management systems greatly facilitates coordination. In addition, regular joint missions review options to improve the coherence and synergies between the support provided by the sector pooled fund and those from other development partners.

A well-defined legal framework to facilitate risk management and partner dialogue

The design of the FCSE was guided by an analysis of capacities, fiduciary risks, and risks of operational counter-performance.

FCSE partners and the government agreed to manage these risks by (i) formalizing national public procurement and expenditure procedures in a manual, (ii) defining operational procedures for FCSE activities and improved education system performance, and (iii) defining additional mechanisms and rules to manage and reduce fiduciary risks.

The procedures manual also clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the many different education structures and finance ministry departments in FCSE resource management.

This aligned approach was designed to leverage the transformations needed for the Nigerien education system to enhance performance and equity.

“The FCSE is a highly promising instrument for public policy dialogue. The fact that it covers different subsectors at central, decentralized, and devolved levels with different types of actors means that we can really probe the system’s foundations and work on improving equity, learning outcomes, and management at all levels, holistically,” says Audrey Martinenq-Duplessis, Education and Training Project Team Leader at AFD.

Since its launch, the FCSE has helped improve sector dialogue and education sector planning. The Fund’s resources complement and add to the domestic resources allocated to the education system.

Technical and steering committees support high-level dialogue between development partner contributors to the FCSE and the ministries in charge of education reporting to the prime minister. These bodies steer the implementation of the sector plan and FCSE support.

Addressing regional specificities to improve inclusion for the most vulnerable populations

As the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry for Education points out, “A very important framing principle of the FCSE is that it earmarks over 80 percent of its resources to regional levels, providing critical support for local authorities and decentralized education service delivery structures.”

The fact that the FCSE resources flow through national public financial management channels means that the decentralized, regional, and local education bodies can be better supported at scale to fulfil their mandates. This includes improving local resource management in the training of teachers and supervisors, pedagogical support services and direct subsidies to schools and establishments.

As the Maradi Regional Director of the Ministry for Secondary Education put it in March 2021, “The Fund is a breath of fresh air for our system.”

The Fund is also supporting the implementation of Niger’s decentralization and devolution policy by contributing to the transfer of resources to local government bodies through the Local Government Funding Agency (AFCT) to build and equip classrooms.

“The pooled fund is accelerating the decentralization process,” declared the former Regional Councilor of the Maradi Region in March 2021. It has driven the design and development of the first grant mechanism for primary and lower secondary schools built on the municipalities and municipal federations of decentralized school management committees.

With the FCSE, it is now possible for external resources to support funding of education structures at scale, nationwide.

National capacity building to improve the management of sector priorities

The absorption capacity of external financing for the education sector have been improved. The FCSE has also facilitated the implementation of national reforms in public financial management by helping to roll out the program-based budgeting reform for the education sector, with the use of new performance-based planning and reporting formats.

The targeted building of national capacities to implement the sector plan was swift, but not without its challenges. The main problems concerned shortcomings in the quality of public expenditure and public procurement. Although many education structures received FCSE resources, not all of them were capable of managing them adequately.

These challenges show that the introduction of an aligned approach needs to be accompanied by well-organized, flexible and timely support. “The chosen rollout principle also implies being more responsive to the rhythm and limitations of implementing actors,” points out Christian Eggs, Head of Cooperation in Niger for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Niger.

This responsiveness takes the form of technical assistants deployed in the key areas of financial management and accounting, public procurement, planning and reporting, and the construction of infrastructure. They support risk management and knowledge transfers, provide suitable tools, and help build sector program implementation capacities.

The Fund has already provided public actors in the sector with over CFAF 30 billion (over 50 million US$) in addition to the national budget to improve access to education, the quality of teaching, and management of the system. “We firmly believe that it is the right instrument for the scale of the education challenges in a country the size of Niger,” says Cynthia Mela, Director of AFD’s Niger Office.

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Financing, Sector planning
Sub-Saharan Africa: Niger

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