Australia - Education

Funding for education has seen an overall decline since 2015

Australia spent US$197 million of its official development assistance (ODA) on education in 2019, making it the 13th-largest donor to this sector that year and accounting for 7% 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 2015 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 2015 and 2019 of 47%.

As is the case across sectors, Australia favors bilateral spending for education. Bilateral disbursements accounted for 91% of Australia’s spending in the sector in 2019 (US$178 million). ‘Primary education’ and ‘education policy and administrative management’ received the greatest share of this funding (31% each).

Included in this bilateral portion is earmarked funding to multilaterals, which amounted to US$40 million in 2019. Australia is an important contributor to the GPE, which is considered earmarked funding: Australia committed A$90 million (US$63 million) to GPE for the 2018-2020 replenishment. 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 2016-2020) and ‘Education Cannot Wait’ (US$7 million for 2017 to 2020).

Australia’s core funding to multilaterals made up just 9% of its ODA to education in 2019 (DAC average: 30%) for a total of US$18 million. Just over 60% (US$18 million) went to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. US$5 million went to the Asian Development Fund and US$1 million was channeled to UNICEF.

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. In the more recently released ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response’ (Australia’s newest development policy, 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 an estimated A$560 million (US$389 million) for education in FY2020/21. In the FY2021/22 budget, education was the sector hardest hit by the budget cuts necessary to accommodate increased spending on health and humanitarian initiatives related to COVID-19 without increasing overall ODA. The budget for ‘Contributions to Global Education Partnerships’ will decline 90% (to only A$4 million or US$2 million) in FY2021/22 compared to the previous budget. ‘Regional Scholarships and Education’ also saw a 12% cut (to A$59 million or US$41 million).

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Human Development and Governance 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 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.