Australia - Education


Funding for education has seen an overall decline since 2016 

Australia spent US$165 million of its official development assistance (ODA) on education in 2020, making it the 17th-largest donor to this sector that year and accounting for 6% of Australia’s development assistance, below the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) average of 10%. Funding to education has seen a decline since 2016 except for a slight bump in spending in 2018, likely due to a payment to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), made early to reduce the burden in FY2019/20. There was an overall decline between 2016 and 2020 of 36%.  

As is the case across sectors, Australia favors bilateral spending for education. Bilateral disbursements accounted for 88% of Australia’s spending in the sector in 2020 (US$146 million). ‘Primary education’ and ‘education policy and administrative management’ received the greatest share of this funding (33% and 21% respectively).  

Included in this bilateral portion is earmarked funding to multilaterals, which amounted to US$25 million (15%) in 2020. For example, funding for GPE is consdered earmarked: Australia committed A$180 million (US$125 million) to GPE for the 2021-2025 replenishment, making the country an important contributor to GPE. Australia is also involved with and contributes financially to various education-related initiatives focused on research on education systems and quality. These include the ‘Research on Improving Systems for Education’ (RISE; US$8 million for 2016-2020) and ‘Education Cannot Wait’ (ECW; US$7 million for 2017 to 2020) initiatives.  

Australia’s core funding to multilaterals made up just 11% (US$19 million) of its ODA to education in 2020 (well below the DAC average of 30%). Just over 60% (US$18 million) went to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. 7% of total ODA for education went to the International Development Association (IDA; US$11 million), 3% went to the Asian Development Bank (US$5 million), and 1% was channeled through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF; US$1 million). 

In Australia’s development policy ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response’ (launched May 2020), education is framed in terms of supporting the return of children in the Indo-Pacific region to school in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis as a means of promoting social cohesion and economic growth. The policy states that Australia’s “existing investments in health, education, social protection, and economic development will be re-orientated to support partner governments to deliver critical services.” The government budgeted A$560 million (US$405 million) for education in FY2021/22. In FY2021/22, funding for education was cut more than any other sector, with the budget line for ‘Global Education Partnerships’ cut by 90% compared to FY2020/21 and ‘Regional Scholarships and Education’ declining by 12%. This was likely due in part to the lack of scholarships given to international students during nearly two years of COVID-19-related border closures. While the ‘Regional Scholarships and Education’ budget line stayed the same, in FY2022/23 ‘Global Education Partnerships’ jumped back up to A$15 million (US$10 million) from A$3.5 million (US$2 million). 

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s ‘Development Policy Division’ leads on policy development within education   

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) drives the formation and implementation of 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 is the driver of education development policy and provides operational guidance for the implementation of projects. Scholarship management is undertaken separately through the ‘Australia Awards and Alumni Branch’ of DFAT.