Girl (6-7) standing and writing on blackboard, portrait, close-up

Aid to education falls slightly in 2017, shifts away from primary education

mathsIn 2017, aid to education totaled US$ 13.2 billion, down 2% or US$288 million compared to 2016. The figures analysed by our team show that the level of aid to education continue to stagnate, growing by only 1% per year on average since 2009. These figures raise questions about the global commitment to achieving SDG 4, the global education goal.

A drop in aid to education could be something to celebrate if it looked like it was due to governments needing less, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Governments in low income countries spend, on average, 16% of their budgets on education, far more than richer countries, and are off track meeting even the 2015 target of universal primary education.

There has been big talk about ambitions ever since 2015, when our new education agenda was set. However, efforts have focused on elaborating the financing architecture and not increasing the financing. A new multilateral mechanism, the International Financing Facility for Education, which aims to lower the cost of borrowing for education for middle income countries, is expected to be announced later this month. It adds to the Global Partnership for Education, which provides grants to low income countries, and the Education Cannot Wait fund, which focuses on emergency contexts. It seems that donors may be shifting money around, tinkering with different ways to spend a fixed sum, but not giving more.

Girl (6-7) standing and writing on blackboard,portrait,close-upMany donors have not kept the promise to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income to foreign aid. Doing just that and allocating 10% of that aid to primary and secondary education, would have been enough to fill the US$39 billion dollars annual financing gap. Yet, of the top ten OECD donors to education, the United Kingdom is the only G7 country dedicating the UN target figure of 0.7% of its gross national income to foreign aid. And of the cut to total aid to education this year, much can be explained by the United Kingdom whose aid to education fell by 29% in 2017. Most of it came from a drop in its allocation to basic education. From being the second largest donor to total basic education in 2016, it has fallen to fourth place in 2017 with US$ 517 million.

Overall, Germany tops the donor scoreboard for aid to education, allocating US$2 billion in 2017, followed by the United States with $1.5 billion and France with US$1.3 billion. France was the donor that increased its funding the most from 2016 to 2017, by a total of US$207 million. This is in line with the announcement that France would increase its official development assistance to 0.55% of its gross national income by 2022.

However, 58% of Germany’s and 69% of France’s aid is directed at scholarships and imputed costs for students from developing countries to study in their tertiary education institutions. If these items were excluded, aid to education would have decreased by 5% and aid to basic education by 8% between 2016 and 2017.

A full paper detailing this analysis will be available later this month.



  1. Great explanation on why SDG4 might just remain an ambitious goal.

    Even as the International community dialogue continues in the funding fundamentals…developing countries must do value for money analysis. So much is needed to cost-effectively spend the money received for education..whether aid or grants.

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