Education is a top priority; focus is on quality of education, inclusiveness, and vocational training

South Korea is the ninth-largest donor country to global education, spending US$255 million on education ODA in 2015. Education is a top priority of South Korea’s development portfolio: In 2015, the country spent 13% of its total ODA on education, ranking fourth among OECD donor countries. This is well above the average spent on education by other donor countries (8%). However, to get a full picture of South Korea’s education assistance, it is important to exclude scholarships and other costs of students from developing countries studying in South Korea; these costs are reportable as ODA but do not constitute cross-border financial flows. If these costs are excluded, education ODA decreases to US$219 million in 2015.

Education is one of four priorities of South Korea’s 2018 International Development Cooperation Plan of Action (other priorities: transportation, health, and public administration). South Korea considers education a key sector through which it can achieve the SDGs. Education also featured prominently in South Korea’s four flagship initiatives which were abolished during the presidential impeachment in 2017 and the election of a new government. Three of the four initiatives had a focus on education: Better Life for Girls’ (US$200 million) focusing on girls’ education and health, ‘Science, Technology and Innovation for Better Life’ (US$200 million), and ‘Better Education for Africa’s Rise’ (US$100 million). It is expected that most of the committed funding will be allocated to other government programs with a similar focus. For example, education projects under the ‘Better Life for Girls’ initiative will be part of the maternal and child health outreach program in the future. Gender equality, linked to girls’ education, remains a cross-cutting issue of South Korea’s development policy. In addition, South Korea has increased its multilateral engagement in education. The country has joined the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in 2014 and held the 2015 World Education Forum in Incheon, South Korea. At this meeting, 1600 representatives of governments, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector, defined key elements of the Education 2030: Framework for Action.

South Korea’s education ODA has increased, from US$230 million in 2014 to US$255 million in 2015. This was driven by increased spending on vocational training, as well as primary and secondary education. Looking forward, education ODA is likely to continue to increase moderately, in line with the overall expectations for a growing ODA budget (for more details on ODA outlook, see Key Question 1 in the full South Korea profile).

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

South Korea provides the vast majority of its education ODA as bilateral funding: 92% or US$234 million in 2015. Most funding is allocated to ’post-secondary education’, which accounted for 35% of bilateral ODA in 2015 (see figure below), and includes the majority of costs of hosting international students (US$34 million in 2015). Another funding priority is vocational training, which accounted for 28% of bilateral ODA to education in 2015. Smaller shares were spent on general education (15%) and basic education (13%).

This funding pattern is in line with South Korea’s priorities for education as outlined in ‘KOICA’s education mid-term strategy 2016-2020’. The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), which is overseen by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), is South Korea’s implementing agency for bilateral grants. The strategy envisions “inclusive development through quality education”. Its mission is “to ensure rights to education for all by strengthening education systems in partner countries“. The strategy outlines three strategic objectives which are linked to the targets of SDG 4:

  • Quality education and learning achievement, with a focus on training for teachers, a safe and healthy educational environment, and basic learning competencies.
  • Inclusive education for disadvantaged groups, focusing on access to education for girls, people with disabilities, out-of-school children, and students from poor households, as well as providing facilities and equipment necessary to operate educational programs in disaster and conflict-affected regions.
  • Improving skills and technology for work by identifying skill shortages in local labor markets, supporting vocational training and the development of qualification frameworks, and investing in the quality of education and vocational training through capacity development and technical cooperation.

South Korea’s bilateral education ODA is focused on middle-income countries (MICs). On average, 50% of all bilateral education ODA went to MICs between 2013 and 2015. Funding to low-income countries (LICs) averaged 32%. This is in line with South Korea’s overall focus on MICs. Geographically, the funding focuses on Asia: 52% of all bilateral ODA to education went to Asia and only 15% was invested in sub-Saharan Africa. The list of top recipients reflects this focus on Asia: Vietnam, Jordan, Bangladesh together received 20% of all bilateral education ODA between 2013 and 2015. Education is a focus sector in 15 of the 24 priority countries of South Korea’s development assistance. Seven of these priority countries are in Africa, eight in Asia.

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

South Korea is not a major provider of multilateral ODA to education, spending only US$21 million in 2015 (8% of its overall education ODA). Most of this funding was channeled in the form of core contributions to the World Bank’s International Development Association (67%) and the Asian Development Fund (19%). In addition, South Korea joined the GPE in 2014 and pledged to contribute US$5 million for the 2015-2018 replenishment period.

The country has so far not financially supported the international initiative ‘Education Cannot Wait’, a special fund launched in 2016 that aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crises. Overall, South Korea does not report any education-related funding as part of its humanitarian assistance (according to data by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)). 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). However, education and vocational training are two of three priorities for humanitarian assistance in South Korea’s 2018 International Development Cooperation Plan of Action, an indication that the country may increase spending on education in humanitarian emergencies.

MOFA’s Development Cooperation Bureau guides international education policy

MOFA drives the formulation of South Korea’s global education policy. Within MOFA, the Development Policy Bureau is responsible for developing policies (specifically the Development Policy Divisions within the Bureau). MOFA’s Multilateral Development Cooperation Division manages relations with multilateral education initiatives such as GPE. KOICA (overseen by MOFA) is responsible for the implementation of bilateral grants and other technical cooperation. It managed 47% of South Korea’s bilateral education ODA in 2015. The Korea Eximbank (managed 29% in 2015) implements projects for the Ministry of Strategy and Finance (MOSF), mainly in the form of ODA loans. MOFA’s Multilateral Development Cooperation Division manages relations with multilateral education initiatives such as GPE.