Focus on education is increasing under the new government

In 2015, France was the third-largest donor country to education, after Germany and the UK. France disbursed US$1.3 billion to education in 2015, according to OECD data. This represents 14% of France’s total ODA, well above the 8% spent by donor countries of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) on average. France’s funding for education has remained rather stable over the past few years.

However, to get a full picture of a donor’s cross-border flows of education assistance, it is important to exclude scholarships and other costs of students from developing countries studying in donor countries. These costs are reported as ODA by some donors, but are not spent on development programs abroad. In 2015, 60% of France’s education ODA (US$796 million) was costs for students from developing countries studying in France. If these costs are excluded, France drops to the fifth-largest donor country to education (US$526 million).

The ‘promotion of global education’ is one of the overarching priorities of the Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) – the body in charge of setting the strategic direction of France’s development cooperation. In its ‘2016 Conclusions’, the CICID committed itself to strengthening its support for education, as well as five other social sectors. Support will focus on France’s 16 priority partner countries, especially Francophone countries.

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France’s focus on global education is increasing under President Macron’s new government. Funding for education is considered one of the pillars of international development that strengthens national security, and as an instrument of France’s cultural diplomacy in the world – particularly within the Francophone world. This is reflected in the framework of the Sahel Alliance (‘Alliance pour le Sahel’). Launched in July 2017 by President Macron, the Sahel Alliance is a joint initiative of France, Germany and the EU to better coordinate support for development and security in the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger). ‘Employability and education’ is one of the focus sectors of the alliance, and President Macron has announced an additional €200 million in French Development Agency (AFD) grants to be allocated across three sectors: education, agriculture, and climate change. Apart from these grants, looking forward, the new government has not yet announced a major financial commitment for education specifically. However, the strong focus on education emphasized by both President Macron and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian is likely to lead to funding increases in coming years.

In 2015, France channeled 84% of its education bilaterally, well above the average of the OECD DAC of 73%. According to the OECD, education is the largest sector of France’s bilateral ODA, receiving US$1.1 billion in 2015 or 16% of France’s bilateral ODA. This includes the high in-country student costs mentioned above. If these costs are excluded, education financing drops to US$315 million, making it just the 11th-largest sector of bilateral ODA.

These costs also distort the picture of France’s funding priorities within education. Three quarters of France’s bilateral education ODA is spent on post-secondary education (US$828 million in 2015): Nearly all of this (95%) is costs associated with students from developing countries studying in France. Secondary education is the second-largest sub-sector, with funding at US$124 million or 11% in 2015. As secondary and post-secondary education are considered important in supporting youth employability and in turn strengthening the economy – a key priority of France’s development policy – it is likely that they will continue to receive larger amounts of funding going forward.

Smaller shares of France’s bilateral funding for education are invested in general education (US$73 million, or 7%), which includes activities aimed at strengthening education systems. Funding for basic education, which includes primary education, accounts for 3% of France’s bilateral education ODA.

France focuses its education programs on strengthening the link between education and employment, and security. This link was recently reiterated by President Macron at the G5 Sahel Summit in Bamako in July 2017. Within education, investments by the Sahel Alliance will focus on employability through education and training. Priorities will be further defined in the French Development Agency’s (AFD) ‘Strategy for Education, Training, and Employment’ for 2016 to 2020. This was discussed with partners in March 2017, and has not been made public as of August 2017.

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Virtually all of France’s bilateral education ODA is channeled through France’s public sector (98% or US$1.1 billion). This is due to the large amounts of education ODA provided by the Ministry of Education (under which scholarships and other costs of students from developing countries studying in France are reported), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE), and the AFD. In 2015, all education loans were channeled by the AFD (US$30 million), mostly for the construction of educational facilities.

Geographically, bilateral funding focuses on the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region. The MENA region received 32% of bilateral education ODA between 2013 and 2015 on average, driven by funding to Northern African countries. This is well above the DAC average of 13%. The top recipient countries and regions of France’s education ODA are closely linked to costs of hosting international students: the top four recipients (Morocco, China, Algeria and Tunisia) are also the top four countries of origin for international students in France. A quarter of funding (27%, average 2013-2015) is allocated to programs in sub-Saharan Africa (slightly above the DAC average of 25%). With regards to income levels, France focuses its funding on middle-income countries: they received 73% of bilateral ODA between 2013 and 2015 (DAC average: 52%).

In 2015, France contributed US$212 million (16%) of its education ODA as core contributions to multilateral organizations. This almost entirely comprised of assessed contributions to the European Union (US$100 million) and to the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA, US$90 million).

France contributes to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the largest multilateral organization dedicated to education. Since 2002, France has contributed a total of US$107 million to GPE (11th-largest contributor). However, funding for GPE has declined in recent years.  In 2014, France did not make a financial commitment at GPE’s Second Replenishment Pledging Conference for 2015 to 2018 due to “budgetary constraints”, instead France “pledged to pledge”. In 2015, it provided US$1.6 million according to GPE data, the equivalent of 0.12% of France’s total ODA to education. France reports GPE contributions as bilateral ODA to the OECD.

GPE is one of the organizations that can receive funding from the Solidarity Fund for Development (FSD). FSD is financed through France’s financial transaction tax and air ticket levy (for more details see question four: How is the budget structured?). According to government budget documents, France disbursed €8 million to GPE in 2016, and currently does not plan on providing funding in 2017.

France is a relatively small donor to humanitarian aid efforts for education. In 2016, President Hollande pledged €100 million to support refugees for 2016 to 2018, half of which will be destined to the education of children living in camps, particularly in Lebanon. France also recently decided to take part in the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ initiative, a special fund launched in 2016 that aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crises. In April 2017, France committed €2 million for 2017 to the initiative. Overall, however, France’s funding for education in humanitarian assistance is still low: In 2015, it spent 0.3% (US$0.5 million) of its humanitarian assistance on education programs, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), below the global average (2%).

The MAE defines overarching priorities, AFD steers implementation

Within the MAE, the Directorate-General for Globalization, Culture, Education and International Development (DGM) and its ‘Sub-Directorate for Human Development’ drives strategies relating to France’s global education policies. The MAE is responsible for the allocation of resources to education ODA channeled through multilateral organizations, and provides political guidance on the priorities of France’s bilateral education ODA. This is particularly true for programs implemented by the AFD. AFD is responsible for the implementation and design of education projects in partner countries. The ‘Education, Training and Employment’ division of the ‘Human Development’ department is the most relevant operational division. The Ministry of Education is involved in global education, in so far as it manages and reports costs of hosting international students.