FLN Profile: France
Last updated: March 20, 2023
France is the second-largest donor to education, and funding is trending upward. According to the OECD CRS, France’s funding to education amounted to US$1.8 billion or 10% of total ODA in 2020, making it the second largest DAC donor in the sector. Education funding has increased continuously since 2016 and grew by 11% in 2020 compared to 2019. In 2020, most funding was channeled bilaterally (85%), making education the largest bilateral ODA sector overall with US$1.6 billion.
Core contributions to multilaterals stood at US$266 million in 2020, or 15% of France’s education ODA. Most contributions went to the EU and the World Bank’s International Development Association. France has also significantly increased its contributions to the GPE since 2014, pledging EUR333 million (US$400 million) for 2021-2025 compared to EUR17 million (US$19 million) for 2014-2018 and EUR200 million (US$227 million) for 2018-2020. Education development cooperation with multilaterals is increasing in strategic importance in France, with the opening of a new GPE office in Paris, alongside the growing World Bank office.
However, as 54% of bilateral education funding is spent inside the country for students from LMICs studying in France, French NGOs contend that overall education funding figures distort the picture because the funding does not directly benefit ODA-eligible countries.
France’s bilateral education ODA prioritizes post-secondary education. While France emphasizes early learning in strategic documents, two-thirds of France’s bilateral education ODA was spent on ‘post-secondary education’ in 2020 (US$1 billion). Nearly all spending on this budget line covered costs associated with students from LMICs studying in France. ‘General education,’ which includes activities aimed at strengthening education systems, received 9% of France’s bilateral education ODA, or US$135 million in 2020, while ‘basic education’, which includes ‘primary education,’ accounted for 8%, or US$131 million.
AFD funding focused on basic education as one of three priority sectors. In 2021, the AFD spent EUR86 million (US$98 million) on basic education, with EUR37 million (US$42 million) of this focused on the Sahel, according to the AFD Activity Report 2021. All the funding was disbursed as grants, and EUR26 million (US$28 million) was disbursed via the GPE. In comparison, the other sub-sectors of focus for AFD are professional education (EUR96 million; US$103 million spent in 2021) and scientific research and higher education (EUR79 million; US$85 million). The AFD partners with the following institutions and organizations: the EU, Alliance Sahel, International Institute for Educational Planning, UNESCO, and Institut de la francophonie pour l’éducation et la formation, among others.
Within education funding, the funding that can be attributed to FLN is comparatively low, likely at least partly driven by the terminology used and approach to reporting. France generally does not fund FLN-specific projects but rather supports broader projects targeting the quality of basic education. Using a keyword search based on the OECD CRS dataset, modified for French data, the estimated FLN funding in 2020 amounted to US$7 million or 0.5% of bilateral education funding. Total FLN-related funding might be larger, as France often funds foundational skills as part of larger basic education sector programs; yet, as project descriptions do not specifically reference this, the amount cannot be estimated based on the available data. In addition to bilateral funding, part of French multilateral funding to basic education is also likely to benefit FLN. Instances include funding provided to multilateral organizations with a strong focus on foundational learning, such as the World Bank.
FLN - relevant funding has been broadly stable with minor fluctuations since 2016. Between 2016 and 2020, estimated FLN funding fluctuated between US$4 million or 0.3% of bilateral education funding at its lowest (in 2018) and US$9 million or 0.7% (in 2016) at its highest. In relative terms, funding has been broadly stable.
FLN-relevant funding was channeled to priority countries in SSA. Between 2016 and 2020, Niger was the largest recipient of French FLN-specific funding, estimated at US$11 million. It was followed by funding for Chad (US$7 million), and Mozambique (US$5 million). This aligns with France’s geographic focus on priority countries in SSA, as established in the 2018 CICID Conclusions and the *2021 Development Law. In accordance with the legal guidelines, all funding was provided as grants.
In the last five years, France has made education a priority sector of its international development policy. President Emmanuel Macron’s government positioned education as a key priority of France’s approach to international development and an instrument of cultural diplomacy to promote the French language and culture (Francophonie). The 2018 CICID conclusions made education one of five priority sectors, which were reaffirmed by the 2021 Programming law for inclusive development and the fight against global inequalities. The 2017 Education Sector strategy, sets out additional priority actions and guiding principles for the sector.
France focuses on five education priorities. The 2018 CICID Conclusions name five bilateral education sector priorities, including:
- Strengthening universal basic education: Earmarking significant bilateral and multilateral resources for quality basic education for all;
- Integrating youth into the labor market;
- Mainstreaming women and girls’ empowerment;
- Improving the quality of higher education, research, and innovation; and
- Supporting Francophone initiatives and institutions.
Education is viewed as a tool for mediating inequalities, advancing socio-economic integration and human capital development, and accelerating progress on the SDGs. It is also seen as key to advancing gender equality, a cross-cutting priority of French development policy. Additionally, education projects are an instrument of cultural diplomacy for promoting French culture and diplomacy, strengthening Francophone organizations, and reinforcing relations with Francophone countries. Finally, education investments support France’s security agenda, which aims to stabilize regions experiencing conflict, particularly in the Sahel.
France lists universal access to foundational skills as an education sector priority but does not have an FLN-specific policy. The 2021 Development Law states that supporting universal access to foundational skills is one of two priority objectives, reaffirming its prioritization in the 2018 CICID Conclusions. Annex II(b)(2) of the law and the 2017 Education Sector Strategy identify key intervention areas to support access to foundational skills, including:
- Increasing access to free basic education in primary school and until the first level of secondary school and supporting inclusion, especially of girls and vulnerable children;
- Improving the quality of learning, including building competencies in language and IT skills for the 21st century; and
- Reinforcing governance of education systems.
The 2017 Education Sector Strategy emphasizes three key actions under the heading of ‘increasing access to basic education,’ which is most closely related to FLN:
- Reinforcing the integration of girls and vulnerable children;
- Improving the termination of a complete cycle of basic education leading to mastering foundational skills; and
- Supporting access to education in situations of fragility, vulnerability, crisis, or urgency.
Consequently, France takes a broad approach to strengthening foundational skills and the quality of learning. France’s approach includes FLN as one objective alongside others, such as increasing access to schooling, lower-secondary schools, and literacy among youth. France does not have a policy focusing exclusively on FLN and actions to strengthen it but addresses FLN within larger basic education and foundational skill approaches instead.
In terms of target geographies, France’s basic education strategy focuses on LICs in SSA. The 2021 Development Law Annex II(b)(2) and 2017 Education Sector Strategy emphasize LICs in SSA as priority recipients, particularly in the Sahel region.
According to the AFD Strategy 2018-2022, the AFD will primarily provide large-scale grant funding to basic education projects in ‘priority poor countries’ in francophone Africa. According to Annex II(b)(2) of the 2021 Development Law, this focus results from learning gaps in the region, e.g., half of all children reaching adolescence without learning foundational skills in the Sahel zone.
FLN-related activities are part of larger education sector programs. Reflecting France’s broader approach to foundational skills, French basic education projects commonly include FLN activities as one component alongside others. As outlined in its 2017 Education Sector Strategy, France’s bilateral projects often support structural regional initiatives such as ELAN or PASEC, which have a significant component targeting foundational skills and the quality of learning.
AFD projects in basic education are developed in close cooperation with recipient countries’ ministries and designed to support the implementation of national education sector plans. These plans emphasize the quality of teaching, learning foundational skills—including reading, writing, and arithmetic during primary school— and education system oversight as key components. In particular, the 2019 AFD toolkit, Benchmarks and tools for the improvement of basic education serves as a guiding framework for implementing in-country interventions that target learning in primary schools. The toolkit proposes that interventions consider a range of elements key to learning:
- Nutrition and health impacts on learning, including de-worming, dietary deficiencies, and possible health handicaps such as dyslexia or myopia;
- Material conditions of learning, such as infrastructure, teacher/pupil ratios, school time, and teacher absenteeism;
- Updated curricula and learning manuals;
- Teacher capacity and learning, teacher recruitment, and motivation;
- National languages in FLN; and
- School environment and school management.
Bilateral funding for education comes largely from the MEAE budget programs P209 and 185 for cultural diplomacy. The 2023 budget law sets increasing targets for bilateral education spending covered under the ODA Mission P209, raising the target from 11% of all bilateral P209 funding in 2022 to 13% in 2023–2025.
While higher education, research, and development are likely to remain important priorities, basic education is expected to be prioritized as well. FLN is not highlighted specifically. While some of France’s basic education funding to priority LICs is likely to benefit FLN-related programs, basic education programs that intersect with cross-cutting priorities, including gender equality, nutrition, and food security, are expected to receive the most support. Additionally, the Macron government’s reprioritization of French education reform will likely also affect education ODA.
The MEAE defines overarching education and basic education priorities; AFD steers implementation. Within the MEAE, the Directorate-General for Globalization, Culture, Education and International Development and its ‘Sub-Directorate for Human Development’ drive France’s strategies for global education policies overall, and for basic education and foundational skills interventions more specifically.
The MEAE oversees the allocation of resources to education ODA channeled through multilateral organizations and provides political guidance on the priorities of France’s bilateral education ODA , including programs implemented by the AFD.
The AFD handles the implementation and design of education projects in partner countries, including basic education and foundational skills projects. The ‘Education, Training and Employment’ division of the ‘Human Development’ department is the operational division.
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