The UK is among largest donors to education; focus is on girls’ education

The UK is the second-largest donor country to education, after Germany. The UK spent US$1.4 billion on education ODA in 2015, according to OECD data. However, to get a full picture of a donor’s flows of education assistance, it is important to exclude scholarships and other costs of students from developing countries studying in donor countries; some of these costs are reportable as ODA but do not constitute transnational financial flows. If we exclude these costs, the UK is the largest donor country to education. Nonetheless, education is not a top priority of the UK’s development funding portfolio: In 2015, it spent 7% of its total ODA on education, ranking only 16th among OECD donor countries (OECD donor country average: 8%).

The UK’s ‘Aid Strategy’, published in 2015, outlines four strategic objectives for UK development assistance. Under the objective “Tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable”, education is listed as one of seven key areas that support poverty alleviation. Specifically, the UK pledges to “help at least 11 million children in the poorest countries gain a decent education, and promote girls’ education”. Within education, girls’ education is a particular priority for the UK. In 2012, the UK launched the ‘Girls’ Education Challenge’ (GEC), which aims to help up to a million girls access quality education. The UK has so far provided £343 million (US$524 million) through the program (as of July 2017), making it the largest-ever fund devoted entirely to girls’ education. Three-quarters of funding has gone to primary education, with the rest going to secondary education and basic literacy and numeracy, according to Department for International Development (DFID) data.

Overall, the UK’s education ODA has declined in recent years, from US$1.7 billion in 2013 to US$1.4 billion in 2015. The decline is marked by a decrease in bilateral funding, particularly for strengthening education policy and administrative management, and secondary education. Looking forward, education ODA is expected to remain relatively flat over the coming years.  During testimony before a House of Commons inquiry in March 2017, the UK government cited pressure from increased demands for assistance to Africa for hunger relief and migration as reasons not to expect significant increases for education assistance, and said spending will likely be around the same level in the near term.

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

The UK provides the vast majority of its education ODA as bilateral funding: 73%, or US$1 billion, in 2015. The largest share goes to general education[3], which accounted for 41% of UK’s bilateral education ODA in 2015 (see figure below). Most of this funds efforts to strengthen partner countries’ education policy and administration (22% of the UK’s bilateral education ODA, but sharply down from 47% in 2013). Increasingly these funds go to teacher training as well (13% of bilateral education ODA, up from 3% in 2013). Other funding priorities are basic education[4] (32% of bilateral education ODA in 2015 mostly went to primary education), and post-secondary education (19%). Funding to post-secondary education has doubled since 2013 due to increased spending on scholarships for students from developing countries to study in the UK.

These funding priorities align with the UK’s stated emphasis on education system improvements, such as teacher training and better support to basic education. Priorities for the UK’s education funding are detailed in DFID’s 2013 education position paper, which outlines three priorities:

  • “To improve learning”: DFID specifically references teacher training, increasing the availability of data, providing school materials such as textbooks, and improving administration. 
  • “To reach all children, especially those in fragile states”: DFID specifically references targeting children who have been out of the system, building new facilities, basic literacy and numeracy, improving management and system-wide assessment, and interventions for students with special needs.
  • “To keep girls in school”: DFID specifically references addressing barriers to continued education, such as parental financial capacity, teacher training, tutoring, alternative learning opportunities, and support to school systems that show commitment to girls’ education.

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

Overall, the UK directs more of its bilateral education ODA to the poorest countries than other donors. The largest share of the UK’s bilateral education ODA goes to low-income countries (39% on average between 2013 and 2015). OECD donor countries on average allocate 30% to low-income countries. Sub-Saharan Africa was the largest recipient region of UK education ODA (38% between 2013 and 2015). By comparison, the donor country average for education assistance directed to sub‑Saharan Africa was 25% in 2015. The UK channeled its bilateral education ODA in 2015 mostly through the public sector (37%) which predominantly comprises direct bilateral support to partner governments.

The UK is the largest provider of multilateral ODA to education in the world, spending US$366 million in 2015 (or 27% of the UK’s overall education ODA). Most of this funding was channeled in the form of core contributions to the World Bank’s International Development Association (50%), and the European Union (29%). In addition, the UK is the largest donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), having contributed US$988 million (as of March 2017) to the GPE since 2002. According to DFID data, in FY2015/16, the UK provided £18 million (US$27.5 million) to the GPE. This corresponds to 0.002% of its total education ODA in 2015. The UK has committed “up to” £210 million (US$321 million) to GPE for the pledging period 2015-2018. However, the government highlights in its 2016 Multilateral Development Review that the full pledge will only be disbursed if GPE achieves certain reforms, such as improving monitoring and evaluation strategies. The UK reports support to GPE as bilateral ODA to the OECD.

The UK also supports the initiative ‘Education Cannot Wait’, a special fund launched in 2016 that aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crises. The UK has committed £30 million (US$43.6 million) to Education Cannot Wait, making it the largest of five founding donors (other donors: US, the EU, Norway, and the Netherlands). However, overall, education accounts for a small proportion of the UK’s humanitarian assistance: 0.5% (or US$ 9 million) of UK humanitarian assistance in 2015 was allocated to the education sector, according to 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. This is half of the minimum 4% target established by the UN Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

DFID directs education policy development

DFID drives the formation and implementation of the UK’s development assistance for education. Specifically, the Director General of Policy and Global Programmes directs policy design and global programs managed at headquarters levels, such as the Girls’ Education Challenge. However, as with overall UK development cooperation, design and implementation of education programs in specific partner countries is decentralized and largely driven by DFID country offices. Additionally, increasing amounts of education funding are expected to be controlled by government departments outside of DFID or cross-government funds, such as the Prosperity Fund and the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund.  This is in line with the conservative government’s priorities.