The EU is among the largest donors to education; budget support is the preferred instrument

The EU institutions spent US$1 billion on bilateral ODA to education in 2016, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As imputed multilateral contributions to the education sector are not published by the OECD for the EU, this figure only includes bilateral funding.  This makes up 5% of its total bilateral ODA, making it the seventh-largest sector of the EU’s development assistance. Education ODA saw a 30%-increase compared to 2015. This is largely due to increased funding to tackle causes of migration and to an increasing share of the humanitarian assistance earmarked for education. The trend of education ODA growing is expected to continue in the next years. For the current 2014-2020 programming period, it is expected to total US$5 billion, as estimated by the European Commission (Commission).

More than one quarter, 29% or US$287 million, of the EU’s education ODA, however, was spent within Europe in 2016. Two thirds of this covers scholarships and trainings for students from developing countries in the EU; the remaining third is administrative support to EU member states for the Erasmus+ grants for participants from developing countries (see more details below). Excluding them would bring the EU’s ODA to education in 2016 down to US$716 million.

Priorities for education are outlined in the European Consensus on Development (Consensus). Education is included in the framework for action ‘People – human development and dignity’ and is listed as a central element for tackling poverty and inequalities. Early childhood and primary education is in focus, with special attention to girls and women. Additionally, education is considered a means to boost youth employment, mitigate migration, and stabilize countries affected by conflict.

The EU is putting increasing focus on education in emergency and fragile contexts. The EU raised its humanitarian assistance budget dedicated to education from less than one percent in 2015 to 6% in 2017. In 2018, the amount is set to further increase to 8%. Between 2012 and 2017, the EU’s humanitarian funding for education reached US$222 million (€201 million), according to the European Commission, including through the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey and through the Emergency Support Instrument. According to data by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), however, education had accounted for only 0.3%, or US$7 million, of the EU’s overall humanitarian assistance in 2015, increasing to US$37 million or 1.3% in 2016. In addition to funding, the Commission is leading international discussions on education in emergencies: In November 2016 it organized the Forum on Education in Emergencies, and in October 2017 it hosted the annual meeting of the Global Education Cluster, an initiative led by UNICEF and Save the Children.

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The single largest share of bilateral education funding (38%) was allocated to ‘ general education’ in 2016 (US$383 million), with most funding going to supporting education policy and administrative management (US$301 million in 2016). Of this, US$153 million was spent in recipient countries, while US$148 million was spent within the EU as administrative support to member states regarding Erasmus+ grants. Erasmus+ is a program of the European Commission to promote education, training, youth and sport. Students and staff from developing countries can apply for scholarships to attend learning and exchange programs in Europe. A further priority is ‘ basic education’, which received 24% (US$235 million) of the EU’s education ODA in 2016. This mostly comprises funding for primary education (US$202 million in 2016). Another quarter (27%) went to post-secondary education, traditionally a large sector due to scholarships and trainings provided within the EU.

The strategic priorities and the funding lines of the EU to support education in developing countries align in some fundamental ways; however, there are some areas that are considered priorities but that do not receive significant portions of funding. In line with its strategic priorities, the EU channels a large part of its funds to primary education. On the contrary, while the Consensus on Development highlights early childhood education as a top priority, this area only received US$3 million, or 0.3% of education ODA in 2016, according to OECD data.

The EU’s bilateral education ODA focuses on middle income countries (MICs). Almost half (46%) of bilateral funding between 2014 and 2016 went to countries in this income category. Only 15% went to low-income countries (LICs). The small share of education ODA flowing to LICs does not reflect the EU’s overall objective of reducing poverty through investing in education, which is outlined in the Consensus. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as well as Asia receive the largest share (each 21%). Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 15% of the EU’s bilateral education ODA. Together with the recipient countries, the Commission agrees on three priority sectors, in line with the country’s own development strategies. During the MFF 2014-2020, 40 countries requested education as a priority sector, at last half of which are fragile states, according to the Commission.

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Most of the EU’s education ODA is channeled through the public sector (50%, US$499 million in 2016). This largely includes budget support to recipient governments, which is the preferred financing channel of the EU. According to the Commission, budget support promotes country ownership and aligns EU funding with national development strategies. In 2016, the EU provided US$212 million as budget support for the education sector, which accounts for 15% of total sector budget support.

Multilateral support to education is focused on the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), to which the EU has contributed US$343 million since 2006 (as of December 2017), according to GPE data. In 2014, the European Commission hosted in Brussels the replenishment conference for the GPE’s 2015-2018 financing period. During the GPE’s last replenishment conference in February 2018, the EU pledged €338 million (US$440 million) for 2018-2020, according to GPE. The EU also supports the initiative ‘Education Cannot Wait’; it committed US$5.5 million at the launch event in 2016. It is one of five founding donors, alongside the US, the UK, Norway, and the Netherlands.

DG DEVCO’s Directorate on Human Development leads on education policy

The Council of the European Union, specifically the Foreign Affairs Council which includes ministers of foreign affairs and/or development from all member states, determines the overall strategies and priorities in ODA. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Development Cooperation (DG DEVCO) is in charge of developing the EU’s policies and thematic programs around education. Within DG DEVCO, education is covered in the Directorate B ‘People and Peace’, and at the technical level in the Unit B4 ‘Culture, Education, Health’. The Directorate-General European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) oversees the humanitarian budget directed to education. Specifically, the Directorate A ‘Emergency Management’ covers education in emergencies.