United Kingdom - Education

The UK is third-largest donor to global education; focus is on primary education, teacher training, and marginalized populations

The UK spent US$1.7 billion on education in 2016 (the latest year for which multilateral and bilateral data is available), making it the third-largest donor to education in absolute terms and the eleventh-largest in relative terms. In 2016, the UK channeled 81% of its education ODA bilaterally, above the DAC average of 70%.

17 - UK education - total bilateral/multilateral

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18 - ED ranking absolute - UK

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19 - ED ranking percentage - UK

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

The UK spent US$933 million on bilateral education in 2018. About one third (31%) of the UK’s bilateral education spending went to primary education in 2018 aligning with the UK’s stated emphasis on this subsector. 24% went to education policy and administrative management to support efforts to strengthen partner countries’ education policy and administration and teacher training and educational research. 15% went to higher education and 10% to secondary education. Bilateral initiatives include the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC), a 12-year commitment launched in 2012 by the former Department for International Development (DFID) to educate marginalized girls. Now in its second phase, the fund aims to support girls in 17 countries.

Education is seen as an important tool to support the government’s objective to reduce poverty by “tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable”. DFID’s 2018 education position paper (‘DFID Education Policy: Get Children Learning’), outlines three priorities in particular: 1) quality teaching; 2) systematic reform of education systems; and 3) targeted support for poor or marginalized children.

Even though bilateral funding for education decreased by 30% in 2018 compared to 2016 — when the UK made large disbursements to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the GEC — it remains a priority issue for the current government. The government recently appointed the UK’s first Special Envoy on Girls Education, Baroness Sugg, and tasked her to produce a five-year plan to guide UK ODA spending on girls’ education. The plan is expected to set targets for the government to meet and was expected to be published in the second half of 2020. Baroness Sugg resigned in November 2020 in protest against the government backtracking on its commitment to deliver 0.7% of its GNI as ODA.   

The UK will co-host the GPE’s fourth replenishment in 2021 alongside Kenya. It is one of the largest bilateral donors to the GPE, pledging £75 million (US$100 million) a year between 2018 and 2020. In September 2019, the government announced £300 million (US$400 million) for the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd), a new initiative to mobilize finance for education projects through donor grants and guarantees, which will be hosted in London The UK is also the largest donor to Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a global fund launched in 2016 to improve access to education during humanitarian emergencies and crises. Total UK contributions amount to £124 million (US$165 million), including an additional £5 million (US$7 million) announced in April 2020 to support emergency education during the COVID-19 crisis.

DFID was responsible for directing the UK’s development assistance policy for education

DFID drove the formation and implementation of the UK’s development assistance for education. DFID’s Director-General of Policy and Global Programmes directed policy design and global programs managed by DFID headquarters, including the Girls’ Education Challenge. However, as with overall UK development cooperation, design, and implementation of education programs in specific partner countries was decentralized and largely driven by DFID country offices. Additionally, small but increasing amounts of education funding were controlled by other government departments or by cross-government funds, such as the Prosperity Fund and the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund. It is not clear yet how this will evolve under the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).