Australia - Education
At a glance
In the FY2019/20 budget, education accounts for 8% of overall funding
Australia spent US$269 million of its ODA on education in 2016 (the latest year for which multilateral and bilateral OECD data is available). This represented 8% of the country’s overall ODA that year and a steep decline in funding to the sector compared to preceding years. Just 15% of funding to education went to multilaterals in 2016, while 85% was directed through bilateral channels.
Australia’s FY2019/20 budget allocates A$619 million (US$462 million) to education, including both bilateral and multilateral funds. This figure is much larger than the amount that would be recorded by the OECD since Australia considers its funding for the ‘Australia Awards’, (its scholarship and fellowship program for international students), part of its education portfolio. Australia reports this funding as ‘other multisector’ ODA flows for ‘scholarships and student costs in donor countries’, which means it is not counted towards education within Australia’s ODA. According to the latest budget for FY2018/19, the Australian government committed A$305 million (US$228 million) to the Australia Awards initiative. Excluding funding for the Australia Awards, funding to education represents 8% of the overall ODA budget in FY2019/20.
In the development policy that guided Australia’s ODA spending between 2014 and 2020, ‘Education and health’ was one of Australia’s six development investment priorities. According to this strategy, education is an essential building block for 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. The newly released ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response’ policy (launched May 2020), includes education as a component of its efforts to enhance ‘Stability’ in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of COVID-19. (Stability is one of three pillars of the policy alongside health security and economic recovery.) In line with the overall orientation of the policy, education is framed in terms of supporting children in the region return to school in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to promote social cohesion and economic growth. Beyond that, 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”.
Australia tends to provide a majority of its education ODA as bilateral funding. It spent US$216 million on bilateral ODA to education in 2018. This represents a 12% increase from 2017 funding levels, the first growth in bilateral funding to education since 2013; this sector saw a 43% decline in bilateral funds between 2013 and 2017. Of this, funding for primary education received the highest share of funds (41% or US$88 million), followed by education policy and administrative management (21% or US$46 million), and vocational training (12% or US$26 million).
Although multilaterals receive a small share of Australia’s overall ODA to education, the country still makes important contributions to multilateral organizations. Australia is the seventh-largest cumulative donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), contributing a total of US$410 million since it became a partner in 2008. Australia pledged US$72 million for 2018 to 2020, though it did not disburse any funds in 2019. Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister of Australia, and a former Minister of Education has served as GPE’s Board Chair since 2014.
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 the period 2016 to 2020), the ‘Systems Approach for Better Education Results’ (SABER; US$5 million for 2013 to 2018), and towards ‘Education Cannot Wait’ (US$7 million for 2017 to 2020). Based on the years for which data is available (2013-2016) it appears education ODA to multilaterals did not follow the same downward trend as bilateral funding.
DFAT’s Human Development and Governance Division leads on policy development within education
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 Human Development and Governance Division (HGD), specifically the ‘Education, Social Protection, and Human Development Finance Branch (EHB), 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.