SCOPE the main issues in aid to education

International solidarity is needed for the world’s poorest countries to fulfil their children’s right to education. Aid to education is particularly important in low-income counties where it accounts for 16% of total education spending, or 24%, if household education spending is excluded. Yet aid levels to the sector have gone down in 2021 according to the latest OECD DAC figures and the share that education receives in total aid is on the decline.

This blog presents the top lines on the new aid data, but there are so many different ways of breaking aid figures down, as a new page on our interactive SCOPE website shows. The site enables you to explore the information yourself, by donor, recipient, education level and more.

Aid trends

As early as 1970, a UN resolution set the target for Official Development Assistance (ODA) at 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). Yet ODA levels among OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors have stagnated at some 0.3% of GNI for the past 15 years. The GEM Report has estimated that if this target had been met, an additional US$3.3 trillion in ODA would have been disbursed between 1990 and 2016. Of the 30 OECD DAC donors, only Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom were spending more than 0.7% in 2020 – but the United Kingdom reduced its spending to 0.5% in 2021. See how much each donor spends here.

The share of education in total aid fell sharply from 14.7% in 2003 to 9.7% in 2013, where it has remained since, despite strong advocacy efforts to prioritize education in aid portfolios. In 2021, the share of education in total aid was 9.6%. By contrast, the share of health has been on a steady increase, rising quickly in 2019–2021 to respond to the pandemic, reaching an all-time high of 23% of total aid.

Looking at volume, the aid to education levels peaked in 2020 at US$18 billion, as donors provided education-related COVID-19 recovery support; it fell to US$16.8 billion in 2021. Hover over the data to see the actual figures here, and how the amounts given to education are split between basic, secondary and tertiary.

Largest donors

The top five donors account for more than 40% of total aid to education. But their priorities vary considerably. Germany is currently the largest donor, with a rolling average of US$3 billion per year in 2019–2021. However, about 60% of these funds support scholarships and imputed student fees for those, mostly from China and India, who study in Germany. Japan, the seventh largest education donor, allocates more than a third of its aid to scholarships and imputed student fees.

If scholarships are excluded, the World Bank tops the donor list for aid to education, having disbursed US$1.7 billion per year on average in 2019–2021. It is followed by Germany and the United States, each with US$1.3 billion, and the European Union with almost US$1 billion. See the figure here where the amount spent on scholarships by each donor is spelled out.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is not shown alongside other donors, as it channels other donors’ funds to support the implementation of national education sector plans. Between 2003 and 2022, it approved implementation grants worth a total of US$6.5 billion. Click here to see how these have been disbursed over the years.

UNICEF is another major funder of education: its 2020 annual report shows that it spent US$1.2 billion on education, or 16% of its total spending, of which US$146 million was drawn from regular resources and US$1.02 billion from funds earmarked for specific programmes.


Volume of aid is not the only important consideration. It also matters how effective aid is and how equitably it is allocated. There are several ways to look at equity in aid.

Our website looks at the percentage of aid that goes to low-income countries, the amount that is spent per school-aged child, and the percentage that is allocated to basic education. This latter point is necessary given that the poorest children are more likely not to even complete primary school. You can choose the donor you want to analyse on SCOPE. The extract below shows the different and changing aid priorities of France, the United Kingdom and the United States.


Aid is an important source of education financing in low-income countries, which must be analysed jointly with domestic public and private funding, the rationale behind our partnership with the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics to produce the annual Education Finance Watch that brings these three lines of analysis together in one report. In addition to increasing the funds available for education, equitable distribution needs to be strengthened. In order to achieve the global education goal, SDG 4, it is important that countries and donors take responsibility and fulfil their commitments.


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