In 2015, the world committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Education 2030 Framework for Action (FFA) within the next fifteen years. For education, this includes a commitment to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all‘ – regardless of personal, social or political context.

But two years later, we are in a global education crisis.

  • Between 2013–16, one in four countries spent less than the international recommendation of 4% of GDP on education, and allocated less than recommended minimum of 15% of total public expenditure to education.
  • Aid to education in low- and lower-middle-income countries needs to be six times above the 2012 level. However, total aid to education in 2015 was 4% below 2010, despite an overall increase in aid of 24% in the same period.
  • Low-income countries received 19% of total aid to education and 23% of aid to basic education in 2015, down from 21% and 29%, respectively, in 2014.
  • Regionally, sub-Saharan Africa, with over half the world’s out-of-school children, received 26% of basic education aid in 2015, less than half the 2002 level.
  • Humanitarian aid to education increased by more than 50% in 2016 to US$303 million, but funding for education in emergencies remains insufficient at 2.7% of the total.

Unless we see a radical shift in financing for education, the bold ambitions of the SDG4/Education 2030 agenda will continue to be at least 50 years off track for achieving inclusive and quality education for all by 2030.

That is why, in 2017, in order to marshal the resources for delivering SDG4, the Global Campaign for Education has launched an education finance campaign – Fund the Future: Education Now.

GCE is calling for action to secure significant shifts in education financing – through increases in aid and domestic finance – to achieve the SDG4/Education 2030 goals. We call for governments to work harder to meet the huge financing gaps in education, to tackle the stagnation of aid to education, and a lack of domestic financing for education in low- and middle-income countries.

The Fund the Future: Education Now campaign has issued a global Call to Action, which contains three campaign pillars with linked objectives and targets. These three pillars aim to secure:

  • increased domestic resources;
  • increased bilateral and multilateral contributions; and
  • global action on tax reform and justice.

How much money will be needed?

Reaching universal pre-primary, primary and secondary education – of good quality – in low- and lower-middle-income countries will require a total of US$340 billion per year. This will require low-income countries to spend 6.56% of GDP on education, which will still leave a funding shortfall of US$39 billion. Donor countries and the international community must play their part, and additional domestic resources must be generated – for example, by companies paying their fair share of taxes.

None of these calculations, however, include the full spectrum of lifelong learning, which world leaders have committed to ensure. In 2009 expenditure on adult literacy programmes was less than 1% of GNP in virtually every country, and much less in some developing countries. UNESCO estimated that US$28 billion is needed to fund the annual shortfall in recommended spending on adult education programmes in developing countries. The cost to eliminate illiteracy altogether was estimated at $156 billion annually; with 750 million young people and adults unable to read or write a simple sentence, costing the world an estimated US$1 trillion every year, this issue cannot be ignored.

What financial commitments have been made so far?

The Education 2030 Framework For Action recognises that the goals cannot be met without scaling-up finance, and that governments should invest at least 4-6% of GDP and 15-20% of their budgets in education. It also highlights that resources will need to be mobilised at national, regional and global levels to ensure ‘adequate financing for education’.

There are a number of governments which have made – and delivered – notable commitments to education:

  • Côte d’Ivoire spends over 23% of its national budget and almost 6% of GDP on education
  • Ethiopia spends 24% of its national budget and just over 4% of GDP on education
  • Mozambique spends over 20% of its national budget and well over 6% of GDP on education
  • Senegal far exceeds international recommendations, with 24% of budget and almost 7% of GDP going to education.

Yet all of these countries face challenges with out-of-school children, children dropping out of education, and poor quality of education leading to children not learning the basics even when they do go to school. Ultimately, spending large proportions of budget on education cannot bring an end to the education crisis if the overall budgets are low to start with. This hits children much harder when the levels of education spending are very low –  for example, Pakistan, Nigeria, Georgia, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Timor Leste all spend less than 10% of national budgets on education.

Governments must find ways to raise revenues overall, and in most instances allocate a far greater share to education. This will mean moving towards greater tax justice – by developing progressive taxation systems, closing tax loopholes, and putting a stop to tax evasion, for example. Indeed, every year developing countries lose US$160 billion of tax revenue due to multinational corporations – considerably more than they receive in aid.

In donor countries, aid to education has stagnated, despite overall levels of aid increasing. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the multilateral funding agency for education in low- lower-middle-income countries, will be hosting its third Financing Conference on 2nd February 2018. Since 2011, GPE has relied heavily on donations from a small number of countries, including the UK, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, as well as the European Union itself. In 2018, more donors must step up to meet GPE’s aim to reach a pot of US$3.1 billion over the next 3 years.

Citizens must hold their governments to account for their promise of free, public, inclusive and equitable, quality education. Money may not be everything in the education sector, but without it, the ambition of realising the right to education for everyone will never be fulfilled.

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.