How would education suffer without aid from the USA?

1Last week, White House officials said that President Trump would increase military spending by $54 billion, taking funds from domestic programs and foreign aid to pay the bill. What would a total cut of all USA aid for education mean?

In 2014, the USA was the fourth biggest donor to education, after the UK, France and Germany, allocating just over $1 billion to the sector. It allocated 88% of its total funds to basic education making it the biggest donor for basic education, followed by the UK in second place.

The United States tripled its aid to basic education between 2002/03 and 2013/14. It is among only a few donors that have continued to increase such aid after 2009/10, accounting for more than 20% of total aid to basic education.


The United States has also been among the champions assigning increasing priority to low income countries. In 2012–2014, it accounted for 11% of total aid to education for low income countries but 8% of total aid to education for all countries.

If the USA pulls its funding completely, therefore, this scoreboard will dramatically change. It will change matters for many aid recipients too, who have been able to rely upon strong funding from the USA for years – and particularly for basic education as this graph shows.


Comparisons can be made with the Netherlands’ slashing of aid to education over the past several years, from $443 million in 2008 to just $170 million in 2014, although the USA would be a more drastic shift in landscape, given the relative size of their contributions.


In response to the question asked at the top of this blog:  education – and by that we mean girls and boys going to school and learning – would be drastically hit by a change in tune over US funding to the sector. During the 2011-2015 period, for example, USAID’s Education Strategy Progress Report from 2011-2015 shows that it has supported 151 basic education programs in 46 countries, directly benefiting more than 41.6 million children and youth. This aid, as we showed above, is being directed at some of the poorest countries, many of which our Report has shown continue to rely on external aid for 10% or more of their total public expenditure on education.

USAID Strategy covering period 2011-2015

It also makes little sense to swap increased military might and education opportunity. Especially when, as even the military themselves recognise, “elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical”. This is, no wonder, why one of the three prongs of USAID’s strategy from 2011-2015 was to focus on education in conflict-affected regions.

6Peace, not just nationally, but also at a global level, will not be realized if we do not promote education and learning, as our latest publication shows. This is the key takeaway we must urgently convey to the US Congress, the White House and the State Department.  If education for education’s sake is not enough to protect this aid, then maybe saving the USA from having to spend even more on its future  military budget could. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, where the US military has expanded its presence, research has shown that sub-national regions with very low average education in 22 countries had a 50% probability of experiencing the onset of conflict within 21 years, while the corresponding interval for regions with very high average education was 346 years.

Last, but not least, we must hope that Senator Graham’s comments about the lack of logic behind cutting aid to pay for defense budgets are heard.  It may be that the basic right to quality education is no longer a convincing basis to inform decision-makers; if so, we will have to rely upon financial arguments to win the day.



  1. Thank you for this analysis. If President Trump really wants to “make America great again” then he should be leading by example (good example!) and reversing these priorities: the positive impact of increased and targeted education spending both at home and abroad would be enormous, and a true sign of “greatness.”

  2. I agree spending both at home and abroad in education would make America great. In this global village the better off should think globally to make our earth better. That can be done through investing in education to all.

  3. Just FYI, in the caption of your graph on Extended reach, you note that “That is more than 50.2 million children enrolled in primary school in North America and Western Europe.” Shouldn’t it rather read ” …. in primary school thanks to North America and Western Europe.” or “… in primary school in developing nations.”? Am I missing something?

    1. Dear Stephane,Thank you for the comment. I believe that USAID refer only to the 46, who have received ‘direct assistance’. Best wishes

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