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Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of aid to education has fallen for 7 years in a row

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new policy paper by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report shows that aid to education grew by US$1.5 billion, or 13%, to a record US$13.4 billion between 2015 and 2016, its highest level since records began. Yet sub-Saharan Africa has received a smaller and smaller share of the pot for seven years in a row, receiving half the share it used to receive in 2002.

The paper, Aid to education: a return to growth?, illustrates that two-thirds of the 2016 increase in aid targeted basic education. The USA, UK and World Bank, the three largest single donors, accounted for almost half of aid funding to basic education.

Yet, while aid disbursements to basic education have increased, they are still not allocated to countries most in need. The share of basic education aid to low income countries fell from 52% in 2002 to 22% in 2016. This reflects a long-term decline in the share allocated to sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to half of all out-of-school children worldwide. The region used to receive half of the total aid to basic education, but its share has continued the downward trend of the past seven years, reaching 24% in 2016.

Manos Antoninis, Director of the GEM Report, calls for priorities to be reviewed: “Donors need to focus further on basic and secondary education, as well as on the poorest countries, to fill the funding gap that is undermining progress in global education. However,” he cautions, “this will not solve the considerable educational challenges facing lower middle-income countries.”

The paper finds that more than one third of aid allocated to lower middle-income countries comes in the form of loans and that the cost of credit deters many countries from borrowing for education. In fact, the share of education in World Bank loans to middle-income countries fell from 8.2% in 2012 to 4.7% in 2017.

It is necessary to reduce the cost of borrowing for education and to expand the lending capacity of development banks, the policy paper argues. This is the crux of a proposal supported by UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres and UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown to establish an International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd), to serve lower-middle-income countries.

The GEM Report paper illustrates that while the IFFEd would be an important mechanism, a lot more needs to be done to ensure that financing is spent where it is most needed. It is also crucial that the new financing facility operates in conjunction with the other multilateral institutions, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which targets low-income countries, and Education Cannot Wait (ECW), which focuses on education in emergencies.