The EU is among the largest donors to education
The EU institutions spent US$1.2 billion on bilateral ODA to education in 2017, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This amounts to 6% of EU bilateral ODA, making it the seventh-largest sector in the EU’s development portfolio. Education ODA has been on the rise since 2014 and saw a 15% increase between 2017 and 2016. This is largely due to increased funding to tackle causes of migration and to an increasing share of the humanitarian assistance earmarked for education.
Priorities for education are outlined in the European Consensus on Development. 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 are 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. In December 2018, the European Commission hosted a Global Education Meeting in Brussels, bringing together education leaders from around the world to review progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal on education (SDG 4); the resulting Brussels Declaration will feed into the United Nations High-level Political Forum in 2019.
Bilateral education ODA focuses on strengthening education systems; humanitarian funding to education is increasing
The single largest share of bilateral education funding (45%) was allocated to ‘ general education’ in 2017 (US$529 million), with most funding going to supporting education policy and administrative management (US$398 million). A further priority is ‘ basic education’, which received 24% (US$284 million) of the EU’s education ODA in 2017. This mostly comprises funding for primary education (US$253 million). Another fifth of EU education funding (17%) went to post-secondary education, traditionally a large sector due to scholarships and trainings provided within the EU. In 2017, the EU provided US$275 million as budget support for the education sector, which accounts for 23% of bilateral education ODA.
The EU is increasing its focus on education in emergencies and fragile contexts, raising the share of its humanitarian funding dedicated to education from less than one percent in 2015 to 10% in 2019. Between 2015 and 2018, funding amounted to €290 million (US$327 million), according to the Commission. 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.
The EU also supports the initiative ‘Education Cannot Wait’ (ECW)—an initiative dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises—to which it has committed €16 million (US$18 million). The EU is one of five founding donors to ECW, alongside the US, the UK, Norway, and the Netherlands. In April 2019, the EU announced that it would also financially support the ‘International Finance Facility for Education’ (IFFEd)- a new innovative education financing mechanism proposed to generate €9 billion (US$10 billion) in new resources for education in lower middle-income countries. The EU will provide initial funding of €6.5 million (US$7.3 million) to IFFEd.
EU is an active supporter and funder of global education initiatives
Multilateral support to education is focused on the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The Commission has provided 9% of total contributions to the GPE between 2003 and 2018, making it its fifth largest donor. Between 2014 and 2020, the Commission has committed to contribute €475 million (US$535 million). During the GPE’s last replenishment in 2018, the EU pledged €390 million (US$440 million) for 2018-2020. According to GPE data, this accounts for 18% of total pledges made.
DG DEVCO’s Directorate on Human Development leads on education policy
The Council of the European Union—specifically the Foreign Affairs Council that 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) leads on developing the EU’s policies and thematic programs around education. Within DG DEVCO, education is covered in Directorate B, ‘People and Peace’, and at the technical level in 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, Directorate A, ‘Emergency Management’, covers education in emergencies.