Strategic Debate: Financing the Education 2030 Agenda

26 January 2016

The Education 2030 agenda, which was adopted in New York City by the United Nations in September 2015, sets out an aspirational vision for equitable, quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all. 

Yet a lack of adequate funding — amounting to an annual $39 billion finance gap over the next fifteen years – could prevent many low- and lower-middle income countries from making this a reality. This will also have broad implications for education planners on the ground.

To help planners and other stakeholders better understand the financing policies needed to achieve the new global goals, IIEP recently held its first Strategic Debate of the year on the topic “Financing the Education 2030 Agenda – key issues and challenges for national planners.” 

Bringing together more than 50 education planners from around the world, academics, country delegates and education experts, the event put the spotlight on the precarious state of financing flows, going back to the Education for All (EFA) movement in 2000 to the recent adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

New challenge, new momentum?

“Projections say the world will remain far from targets unless major action is taken,” said Aaron Benavot, director of UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report), and key speaker during the debate.

In the immediate aftermath of the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000, a mobilized international community doubled education aid from 2002 to 2009. However, from 2010 onwards the momentum tapered and aid levels either leveled off or even declined.  

Source: Aaron Benavot, GEM Report Director, 2016

“It’s clear that international donors have not kept their promise that was made in Dakar – that no country that made an honest effort to attain the EFA targets would be stymied for lack of financing,” Benavot said.

Consequently, the financing gap became a major reason why many low- and middle- income countries could not attain the Education for All (EFA) goals, which expired at the end of 2015. Today, the stakes are even higher with a more ambitious, comprehensive set of global education goals.

What are the costs of achieving the new Education 2030 goals?

The annual total cost of achieving universal pre-primary, primary and secondary education in low- and lower-middle income countries is projected to increase from US$149 billion in 2012 to US$340 billion, on average, between 2015 and 2030, according to the EFA Global Monitoring Report.

In other words, the Global Partnership for Education says it would cost just $1.08 per day on average to send every child to school for 12 years.

However, the GEM Report’s costing models have pinpointed vast financing gaps – the difference between how much quality education for all costs and the domestic resources available to pay for it.

For example, in low-income countries – where the gap is most worrisome – it amounts to 21 billion dollars, or 42% of the total cost. And with only three billion dollars allocated from international aid, Benavot says there is still an $18 billion shortfall.

“This gives you an idea of how ambitious the targets are relative to current expenditures, relative to current aid flows, and relative to the decline in aid at the international level," said Benavot. "Where is the money going to come from?” 

Paul Coustère, IIEP’s Deputy Director and a speaker during the debate, said there is little reason to think Official Development Assistance (ODA) to education will multiply – six times – to fill the funding gap.

While there is a need to further develop global models for costing and resource mobilization, the country level approach has more potential to bridge the financing gap, according to Coustère. Still, he also advocated in favor of developing an international fiscal base to fund global public goods.

The financing data gap

Moving into the post-2015 era, the need for clear and transparent information around financing flows has taken on new urgency. Planners need to know where funds come from, how well they are managed and whether allocations are engendering the intended outcome.

“One of the big challenges going forward is to improve the kind of data about the actual allocations, where they are going, how much is being siphoned off in all kinds of directions that don’t meet the eye,” said Benavot.

This includes information on how much households and parents are still spending in addition to government allocations in order to send their children to school and pay for all kinds of hidden fees.

David Woods Baysah, a project coordinator from the Ministry of Education in Liberia and a current IIEP trainee, said that the advent of free schooling was very exciting for his country. “However, what free means is really uncertain,” he said.  “For people in poor countries, free is really fee.”

This highlights the need for planners to have full, comprehensive data to ensure that informed decisions are made from the onset of policy discussions.

“A lot of the data that is available is not timely,” said Benavot. “It takes a while, sometimes a year, two or three years, to find out how much of what has been allocated has actually been spent and by whom and is there a gap between allocation and expenditure.”

Education planners need to know whether they can rely on funds in the years to come - and who exactly they are serving - to ensure that education allocations are distributed fairly and effectively. 

Inefficiencies in the system also need to be identified so planners can rectify any shortcomings and work to optimize access and completion rates and improve learning outcomes with fewer resources.

While many outside factors can influence the success of the Education 2030 agenda – from how external aid flows are managed to the kinds of innovative funding schemes being explored – national planners can play an important role in assessing and evaluating policies insofar as how they relate to equity, efficiency and effectiveness.

Source: Aaron Benavot, GEM Report Director, 2016

 

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