Australia is the 6th-largest donor country to education; overall funding is expected to remain stable

Australia is the sixth-largest donor country to education, after Japan: Its contributions reached US$366 million in 2015, down from US$457 million in 2014. Australia allocated 12% of its total ODA to education, making it the eighth-largest OECD donor country. Its education spending is above the average spent by the donors of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD, which stood at 8% in 2015. Australia considers its spending for ‘Australia Awards’, its scholarship and fellowship programs for international students studying in Australia, part of its development assistance portfolio. These figures, however, are not reflected in the OECD figures presented

‘Education and health’ is one of Australia’s six development policy priorities, representing a fairly high portion of overall ODA. According to its development-assistance strategy, Australia aims to invest in better quality education, so as to enable young people to gain knowledge and skills to contribute productively to society. Australia is involved in and contributes financially to various education-related initiatives focused on research on education systems and quality of education. These include the ‘Research on Improving Systems for Education’ (RISE; US$8 million from 2016-2020) and the ‘Systems Approach for Better Education Results’ (SABER; US$5 million from 2013-2018).

Largely in line with overall development budget cuts, Australia’s education ODA declined to US$366 million in 2015. The decline is driven by lower disbursements to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in 2015, which are reported as ‘education policy and administrative management’. Bilateral funding to the sector alone decreased by US$117 million between 2014 and 2015.

According to the Australian budget, education ODA is expected to decrease slightly from A$687 million (US$516 million) in FY2016-17 to A$675 million (US$507 million) in FY2017-18. Looking forward, education ODA is likely to remain relatively flat or even decrease due to the overall cuts to and future caps on the Australian ODA budget (see Key Question 1 of Donor Tracker’s Australia profile for more information on budget cuts and caps).

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

Australia provides the vast majority of its education ODA as bilateral funding: 91% or US$333 million in 2015; equivalent to 12% of bilateral ODA. A large share of bilateral education ODA is for general education, which accounted for 44% in 2015 (see figure below). A quarter of bilateral financing in 2015 went towards strengthening partner countries’ education policies and administration. The third-largest focus area was support for ‘education facilities and training’ (US$49 million or 15% of bilateral education ODA). Another funding priority is primary education (included in the 42% of bilateral education ODA for basic education). Funding to primary education experienced the largest increase of all education sectors, increasing by US$48 million (52%) between 2013 and 2015. Secondary education (2% of bilateral education ODA), vocational training (3%) and post-secondary education (8%) have not received large amounts of financing in recent years.

Australia directs nearly half of its overall bilateral education ODA to middle income countries (MICs). On average 49% was distributed to MICs between 2013 and 2015. Just over a quarter of bilateral funding was invested in low-income countries (LICs), equivalent to 28% of funding over the past three years. The focus on MICs is reflected in the government’s strong focus on Asia. Between 2013 and 2015, 54% of bilateral education ODA was disbursed to Asian countries. Another 26% of bilateral education ODA went to Pacific island countries. The remaining 19% was unspecified for programs targeted at multiple regions.

This distribution is in line with Australia’s overall goal to focus 90% of geography-specific ODA on the Indo‑Pacific region, with very little remaining for other geographies such as sub-Saharan Africa or South America. The top recipients of education ODA were Indonesia (US$69 million on average between 2013 and 2015), Bangladesh (US$41 million), and Papua New Guinea (US$34 million). These three countries are also among the top ten country recipients of Australia’s overall ODA. Australia channeled its bilateral education ODA in 2015 mostly through multilateral organizations (25%), public sector (24%), and NGOs and civil society (18%). Compared to the average share of other DAC countries, significantly less funding is channeled through public sector agencies (DAC average: 46%).  

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

Australia is a moderate provider of multilateral ODA to education. It spent US$33 million in 2015 (9% of Australia’s overall education ODA). This is below the average share of other DAC countries (12%). Most of multilateral education ODA was channeled in the form of core contributions to the World Bank’s International Development Association (59%). Other significant shares went to the Asian Development Fund (AsDF; 26%) and the World Food Programme (11%; e.g., for nutrition education and the provision of food to improve the quality of education).

Australia is a large donor to the GPE. Since it became a partner in 2008, Australia has contributed US$371 million (as of February 2017) to the GPE, making it the fourth-largest cumulative contributor since GPE’s foundation. According to the latest GPE financial report, Australia provided US$49 million to the GPE in 2015. This corresponds to 13% of Australia’s total education ODA in 2015. Australia largely reports support to GPE as bilateral ODA to the OECD and has committed A$140million (US$105 million) to the organization for the pledging period 2015 to 2018. Australia’s pledge specifically supports the upgrade of school facilities, the support of access to schools for poor and marginalized (particularly girls and disabled children), and the training of teachers. Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister of Australia and also a former Minister of Education, has served as GPE’s Board Chair since 2014.

Australia announced A$10 million (US$8 million) for the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ initiative (ECW) in its current budget. ECW is a special fund launched by five donor countries in 2016, aiming to deliver education services in humanitarian crises. Overall, education accounts for a small proportion of Australia’s humanitarian assistance: 0.3% of humanitarian assistance or US$420,000 was allocated to education projects in 2015, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The new commitment will result in an increase of this number. The global average share of humanitarian assistance spent on education was 2% in 2015, according to OCHA, half of the minimum 4% target established by the UN Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

Priorities for Australia’s education funding are detailed in the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Strategy for Australia’s aid investments in education 2015-2020. Australia aims to mainly focus education ODA on a) early childhood care and development, b) quality of education at all levels, c) equity, with a particular focus on gender and disability inclusiveness, and d) high-quality secondary and post-secondary education. Australia further emphasizes supporting technical education aligned with labor-market needs, strengthening regional stability through increased access to education in conflict-affected areas, investing in innovative approaches and research with the private sector and civil society, and supporting emerging leaders through Australia Awards, a scholarship for students from selected countries in Asia, Pacific, Africa and the Middle East studying in Australia.

Girls’ education is a particular priority for Australia and reducing the barriers to education for marginalized girls remains a high priority for the country. Australia supports women and children with disabilities to access education opportunities by investing in access to schools and job skill development which provide new income opportunities. Australia has pledged A$220 million (US$165 million) in support for people affected by the Syria crisis. This funding places a strong emphasis on longer-term resilience support through education, e.g., for getting displaced children back into school in Jordan and Lebanon and addressing barriers to girls’ education like early marriage.

DFAT’s Development Policy Division leads on policy development within education  

DFAT drives the formation and implementation of the Australia’s development assistance for education. Funds to deliver the education strategy come from DFAT’s country, regional, and global programs, and are delivered through the regular budget process. DFAT’s Development Policy Division (DPD), specifically the ‘Development Policy & Education’ (PEB) branch, is the driver of education development policy, and provides operational guidance for the implementation of projects.