Australia is the 6th largest donor country to education; overall funding is expected to remain stable
Australia is the ninth-largest donor country to education: Its contributions reached US$255 million in 2016, down from US$453 million in 2014. These cuts are largely driven by a decline in bilateral funding to the sector, which decreased by US$117 million between 2014 and 2015, and lower annual contributions to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
Australia allocated 8% of its total official development assistance (ODA) to education in 2016, making it the 14th-largest donor country in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) in relative terms. Its education spending is on par with the average spent by the donors of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which was 8% in 2016.
Australia considers its funding for ‘Australia Awards’, its scholarship and fellowship program for international students studying in Australia, as part of its development assistance portfolio. However, Australia reports this funding as ‘other multisector’ ODA flows for ‘scholarships and student costs in donor countries’, which means it is not counted towards Australia’s education ODA. For FY2017-18, the Australian government committed A$330 million (US$245 million) to the Australia Awards initiative. Some countries report such costs as education-related ODA; however, they do not constitute transnational financial flows. If we exclude these costs from other countries’ ODA, Australia ranks sixth in absolute terms and third in terms of education ODA spending out of total ODA.
‘Education and health’ is one of Australia’s six development investment priorities and together represent 30% of Australia’s total ODA. According to its development assistance strategy, education is an essential building block to economic growth, and Australia aims to invest in high-quality education to enable young people to gain knowledge and skills to contribute productively to society. Australia places an emphasis on ensuring education is available for girls and children with a disability.
According to the Australian budget, education ODA is expected to decrease slightly from A$687 million (US$510 million) in FY2016-17 to A$675 million (US$502 million) in FY2017-18. Looking forward, education ODA is likely to remain relatively flat or even decrease due to the cap on the Australian ODA budget (see question one of Donor Tracker’s Australia profile for more information on budget cuts and caps).
Australia provides almost all its education ODA as bilateral funding: 85%, or US$217 million in 2016, equivalent to 9% of total bilateral ODA. A large share of bilateral education ODA is for ‘ general education’, which accounted for 43% in 2016 (see figure below). Of this, funding for education facilities and training contributed 24% and contributions to education policy and administrative management 17%.
' Basic education' made up another 43% of Australia’s bilateral education in 2016, comprised almost entirely of primary education. Funding to primary education increased between 2013 and 2015 (rising from US$92 million to US$140 million) before dropping again in 2016 to US$92 million. Vocational training (2% of bilateral education ODA) and secondary education (1%), has not received large amounts of financing in recent years.
Australia directs nearly half of its overall bilateral education ODA to middle-income countries (MICs). On average 49% was distributed to MICs between 2014 and 2016. Just over a quarter of bilateral funding was invested in low-income countries (LICs), equivalent to 28% of funding over the past three years. The focus on MICs is reflected in the government’s strong focus on Asia. Between 2014 and 2016, half (51%) of all bilateral education ODA was disbursed to Asian countries. Another 28% of bilateral education ODA over the same period went to Pacific‑island countries. The remaining 21% was unspecified for programs targeted at multiple regions.
This distribution is in line with Australia’s overall goal of focusing 90% of geography-specific ODA on the Indo‑Pacific region, with very little funding going to other regions such as sub-Saharan Africa or South America. Indonesia has historically been the largest recipient of Australia’s bilateral education ODA, receiving US$62 million in 2015. However, in 2016 Indonesia was the fourth-largest recipient with US$16 million. The top recipients of education ODA in 2016 were Papua New Guinea (US$43 million), Bangladesh (US$21 million), and Philippines (US$17 million). These four countries are also among the top ten country recipients of Australia’s overall ODA.
Australia channeled its bilateral education ODA in 2016 through the public sector (17%), multilateral organizations (13%), and teaching institutions and think tanks (12%). Compared to the average share of other DAC countries, significantly less funding is channeled through public sector agencies (DAC average: 46%).
Australia is a moderate provider of multilateral ODA to education. It spent US$38 million in 2016, which was 15% of Australia’s overall education ODA. This is below the average share of other DAC countries (30%). Most of multilateral education ODA was channeled in the form of core contributions to the World Bank’s International Development Association (53%). Other significant shares went to the Asian Development Fund (ADF; 34%) and the World Food Programme (7%). World Food Programme financing includes programs for nutrition education and the provision of food to improve focus and ability to learn.
Australia is a large donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Since it became a partner in 2008, Australia has contributed US$398 million to the GPE (as of December 2017). This makes it the fourth-largest cumulative contributor since GPE’s foundation. Australia largely reports support to GPE to the OECD as bilateral ODA and committed A$140 million (US$104 million) to the organization for the pledging period 2015 to 2018. Australia’s pledge specifically supported the upgrade of school facilities, the support of access to schools for poor and marginalized (particularly girls and disabled children), and the training of teachers. In February 2018, Australia pledged a further A$90 million (US$67 million) for the funding period 2018 to 2020. This is a similar per-year contribution as the 2015 to 2018 pledge. Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister of Australia and a former Minister of Education, has served as GPE’s Board Chair since 2014.
Australia announced A$10 million (US$7 million) for the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ initiative (ECW) in its FY2017-18 budget. ECW is a special fund launched by five donor countries in 2016, aiming to deliver education services in humanitarian crises. Overall, education accounts for a small proportion of Australia’s humanitarian assistance: 2% of humanitarian assistance, or US$4 million, was allocated to education projects in 2016, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). However, this is a significant increase from 2015, when Australia spent only US$420,000 on these investments. The global average share of humanitarian assistance spent on education was 2.7% in 2016, according to OCHA. This is still significantly below the minimum 4% target established by the UN Global Education First Initiative.
Australia is involved in and contributes financially to various education-related initiatives focused on research on education systems and quality of education. These include the ‘Research on Improving Systems for Education’ (RISE; US$8 million for the period 2016 to 2020) and the ‘Systems Approach for Better Education Results’ (SABER; US$5 million for 2013 to 2018).
Priorities for Australia’s education funding are detailed in the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) ‘Strategy for Australia’s aid investments in education 2015-2020’. Australia aims to focus education ODA on a) early childhood care and development, b) quality of education at all levels, c) equity, with a focus on gender and disability inclusiveness, and d) high-quality secondary and post-secondary education. Australia further emphasizes supporting technical education aligned with labor-market needs, strengthening regional stability through increased access to education in conflict-affected areas, investing in innovative approaches and research with the private sector and civil society, and supporting emerging leaders through Australia Awards, a scholarship for students from selected countries in Asia, Pacific, Africa and the Middle East studying in Australia.
Girls’ education is a priority for Australia and reducing the barriers to education for marginalized girls remains a high priority for the country. Australia supports women and children with disabilities to access education opportunities by investing in access to schools and job skill development which provide new income opportunities. In 2016 Australia pledged A$220 million (US$164 million) over three years in support for people affected by the Syria crisis. This funding places a strong emphasis on longer-term resilience support through education, e.g., for getting displaced children back into school in Jordan and Lebanon and addressing barriers to girls’ education like early marriage.
DFAT’s Development Policy Division leads on policy development within education
DFAT drives the formation and implementation of the Australia’s development assistance for education. Funds to deliver the education strategy come from DFAT’s country, regional, and global programs, and are delivered through the regular budget process. DFAT’s Development Policy Division (DPD), specifically the ‘Development Policy & Education’ branch (PEB), is the driver of education development policy, and provides operational guidance for the implementation of projects. Scholarship management is undertaken seperately through the Australia Awards and Alumni Branch of DFAT.
- DFAT; Australian aid budget 2017–18; 2017
- DFAT; Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability; 2015
- DFAT; Overview of Australia's assistance for education; 2015
- DFAT; Strategy for Australia’s aid investments in education 2015–2020; 2015
Other official sources