The EU is among the largest donors to education; budget support is the preferred modality

The European Union institutions spent US$768 million on bilateral ODA to education in 2015, according to OECD data. However, more than a fifth of this (22% or US$172 million) was spent within Europe. Two thirds of this covers scholarships and trainings for students from developing countries in the EU; the remaining third is administrative support to EU member states for the Erasmus+ grants for participants from developing countries (see more details below). Although these in-country costs are reported as ODA, they do not constitute cross-border ODA flows; excluding them would bring the EU’s ODA to education in 2015 down to US$596 million. For the current seven‑year programming period (Multiannual Financial Framework; MFF) between 2014 and 2020, EU development assistance for education is expected to total €4.5 billion, as estimated by the European Commission.

Priorities for education are outlined in the European Consensus on Development (Consensus), which was renewed in June 2017. Education is included in the framework for action ‘People – human development and dignity’ and is listed as a central element for tackling poverty and inequalities. A strong focus is on early childhood and primary education, with special attention to girls and women. Additionally, education is considered a means to boost youth employment, mitigate migration, and stabilize countries affected by conflict. The EU is putting increasing focus on education in emergency and fragile contexts. In 2012, it launched the EU Children of Peace initiative, and in 2016, the Commission announced an increase in the humanitarian assistance budget dedicated to education from less than one percent in 2015 to 6% in 2017.

Education is the eighth-largest sector of the EU’s development assistance, corresponding to 5% of the EU’s total bilateral ODA. Funding has remained rather stable since 2011. ODA to education saw a slight drop in 2014, but picked up again in 2015. Looking forward, education ODA is expected to grow moderately, as the share of the humanitarian assistance budget earmarked for education increases.

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The EU’s bilateral ODA to education is spread across different subsectors. One third of bilateral education funding was allocated to general education in 2015 (US$256 million), with most funding going to supporting education policy and administrative management (US$186 million). Of this, US$133 million was spent in recipient countries, while US$53 million was spent within the EU as administrative support to member states regarding Erasmus+ grantsErasmus+ is a program of the European Commission to promote education, training, youth and sport, which is open for EU citizens as well as for participants from across the world. Students and staff from developing countries can apply for scholarships to attend learning and exchange programs in Europe. A further priority of bilateral education ODA is basic educationwhich received 28% (US$213 million) of the EU’s education ODA in 2015. This mostly comprises funding for primary education (US$177 million in 2015), which increased by 53% between 2014 and 2015, largely to support projects for Syrian refugees in Lebanon (US$38 million) and primary education in South Africa (US$34 million). Another quarter of EU education ODA in 2015 went to post-secondary education, traditionally a large sector due to scholarships and trainings within the EU. When in-country costs, such as scholarships, are excluded, post-secondary education received only 14% of all ODA to education in 2015.

The strategic priorities and the funding lines of the EU to support education in developing countries align in some fundamental ways, however there are some areas that are considered priorities but that do not receive significant portions of funding. In line with its strategic priorities, the EU channels a large part of its funds to primary education. On the contrary, while the Consensus on Development highlights early childhood education as a top priority, it only received US$3 million, or 0.5% of education ODA in 2015.

The EU’s bilateral education ODA focuses on middle-income countries (MICs). More than half (54%) of bilateral funding between 2013 and 2015 went to countries in this income category. Only 13% went to low-income countries (LICs), which is far below the 30% average among members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The small share of education ODA flowing to LICs does not reflect the EU’s overall objective of reducing poverty through investing in education, which is outlined in the Consensus.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) together receive the largest share of the EU’s education ODA (24%). Asia receives 21%, while sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 16%. Nonetheless, most of the top recipient countries are in Asia, with Indonesia (US$25 million on average between 2013 and 2015), India (US$25 million), and Pakistan (US$24 million) being among the EU’s top five recipients of education ODA. The other two top recipients are in the MENA region: Jordan (US$36 million) and Morocco (US$23 million). Together with the recipient countries, the Commission agrees on three priority sectors, in line with the country’s own development strategies. During the MFF 2014-2020, 40 countries requested education as a priority sector, at last half of which are fragile states, according to the Commission.

Most of the EU’s education ODA is channeled through the public sector (49%, US$377 million in 2015). This largely includes budget support to recipient governments, which is the preferred financing channel of the EU. According to the Commission, budget support promotes country ownership and aligns EU funding with national development strategies. In 2015, the EU provided US$235 million as budget support for the education sector, which accounts for 31% of its total education ODA, a much higher share than the 20% of all EU development aid channeled as budget support.

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

Multilateral support to education is focused on the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), to which the EU has contributed US$252 million since 2006 (as of March 2017), according to GPE data. In 2014, the European Commission hosted the replenishment conference for the GPE’s 2015-2018 financing period. On that occasion, the EU more than doubled its contribution to the GPE, committing €375 million between 2015 and 2020 (between 2006 and 2014 the EU had pledged US$180 million, according to the GPE). This corresponds to 8% of the EU’s total ODA dedicated to education in the current seven-year financing period (using Commission estimates of €4.5 billion ODA for education between 2014 and 2020). The EU’s pledge covers both the GPE’s 2015-2018 and the upcoming 2018-2020 replenishment periods. The contributions in 2014 (US$30 million) and 2015 (US$5 million) were both disbursements from the previous commitment for 2006-2014. According to Commission data, the current pledge saw a €60 million disbursement in 2016, and foresees contributions of €150 million in 2017, €50 million in 2018, and a remaining €115 million between 2018 and 2020. The EU reports GPE contributions as bilateral ODA to the OECD. The Commission has highlighted that it plans to align its development policy with the GPE, particularly in fragile contexts.

The EU also supports the initiative ‘Education Cannot Wait’; it committed €5 million at the launch event in 2016. It is one of five founding donors, alongside the US, the UK, Norway, and the Netherlands. Education Cannot Wait is a special fund, currently hosted by UNICEF, which aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crises. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), education accounted for a small proportion of the EU’s overall humanitarian assistance in 2015: 0.3% or US$7 million, though increasing in 2016 to US$37 million or 1.3%. This increase followed an announcement by the European Commission in 2016 to raise the contribution of its humanitarian assistance budget to education to 4% in 2016 and 6% in 2017. In addition, the Commission is leading international discussions on education in emergencies: In November 2016 it organized the Forum on Education in Emergencies, and in October 2017 it will host the annual meeting of the Global Education Cluster, an initiative led by UNICEF and Save the Children.

DG DEVCO’s Directorate on Human Development leads on education policy

The Council of the European Union, specifically the Foreign Affairs Council which includes ministers of foreign affairs and/or development from all member states, determines the overall strategies and priorities in ODA. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Development Cooperation – EuropeAid (DG DEVCO) is in charge of developing the EU’s policies and thematic programs around education. Within DG DEVCO, education is covered in the Directorate B ‘People and Peace’, and at the technical level in the Unit B4 ‘Culture, Education, Health’. The Directorate-General European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) is in charge of the humanitarian budget directed to education. Specifically, the Directorate A ‘Emergency Management’ covers education in emergencies.