We must shelve our hopes for aid to education from Australia

The news that Australia’s aid budget will be cut by 10% over the next two years is worrisome for education financing. Ausaid is now closed and development has been merged into its foreign affairs and trade ministries. Combined, these two major shifts in aid policy do not bode well for flows to the sector.

These announcements are somewhat of a turnabout: Australia’s aid to development has been on an upwards slant for the past decade. It has consistently increased the percentage of its GNI dedicated to development aid since 2002, with 0.34% dedicated in 2013. The country never signed itself up to the 0.7% target of GNI to development aid in the past – such a target might have prevented the decision to make such drastic cuts today.

Australia’s aid doubled in ten years
Net disbursements of aid, 2002-2013


Hopes were high for aid from Australia among the education community before this recent announcement. Julia Gillard, Australia’s former prime minister, was previously education minister and demonstrated her loyalty to the sector in her aid budget during her term. The country’s aid to education increased by more than 100% from 2010 to 2012, and, although it allocated less to low-income countries in 2011 than it had the year before, that was reversed in 2012.

The vast majority of Australia’s aid goes to East Asia and the Pacific which is likely to feel these cuts the most. However, the previous Australian government had committed to increase its aid to sub-Saharan Africa – home of over half of out-of-school children by joining the African Development Bank with payments worth US$161 million over six years.  On average the yearly contribution to the bank would have been equivalent to around 8% of its basic education aid in 2012, but this is now in jeopardy.

Australia’s aid to basic education had
recently been on the rise


Since 2010, Australia had also been cordoning off a larger share of its overall aid to education, increasing from 9% to 12%. Although it is too early to comment on how education will be prioritised in its new aid budget, it is practically a cert that the slashes in its overall aid budget will also result in decreased flows to the sector.

In addition, since 2009, Australia had been increasing the share of its education aid that was allocated to basic education, and so destined to help those who need support the most. With development now being considered alongside trade and aid, it is likely that basic education will slip back down the list of priorities.

The share of Australia’s aid to education
allocated to basic education had been
increasing since 2009


The disappointment of the impending aid cuts is felt even more because of the volatility of other donor aid since 2010. The Netherlands, for example, one of the top three donors to education over the past decade, is expected to fall into fifteenth place on the donor board by 2015. More broadly, our last Report showed that nine of the 15 largest donors reduced their aid to basic education for low income countries between 2010 and 2011.

The hope was that the impact of the decreases in aid levels by some of the traditionally biggest donors to the sector might be offset by increases in aid by donors such as Australia, or EU institutions. With a $26 billion annual finance gap for basic education, a lot is pinned on ensuring that aid levels do not drop any further.

In two weeks, we will be releasing a new policy paper revealing the full picture of development aid to education from 2011-2012, broken down by donor, region and income group. We will also look at the financing that education receives from humanitarian aid. A broad picture of the way the sector is financed and where the holes are is crucial as we work up to the replenishment conference for the Global Partnership for Education next month. As we have learnt from monitoring Education for All goals since 2000, financing is also a key piece of the puzzle for setting achievable global education targets for post 2015.

Predictable aid flows are essential for countries to implement their education plans, and are why the EFA Global Monitoring Report has been calling for a finance target in new post 2015 goals. Changes in the donor landscape as large as Australia’s impending 10% cut are dashing hopes for all of us working on education who know that change can’t happen without funds. Most distressing, however, is the knowledge of the hopes that will be dashed in developing countries around the world for children, their mothers, and all those expecting to realize the opportunity of a free, and quality education in their lifetime.


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