France - Education

Education is a key priority for development policy under Macron

According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data, France’s total official development assistance (ODA) to education in 2020 was US$1.8 billion, making it the second-largest Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donor. This represented 10% of total ODA, on par with the DAC average.

In 2020, most funding to education was channeled bilaterally (86%). Core contributions to multilaterals stood at US$266 million in 2020, or 15% of France’s education ODA, mostly comprised of assessed contributions to the European Union (11% of total ODA to education) and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA; 2%).

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France’s funding for this sector has remained somewhat stable over the past few years. However, to get a full picture of a donor’s cross-border flows for education assistance, it is important to exclude scholarships and other costs of hosting students from recipient countries studying in donor countries. These costs are reported as ODA by some donors but are not spent on development programs abroad. In 2020, more than half (54%) of France’s education ODA (US$993 million) consisted of such in-country student costs. Excluding these costs, France is the fourth-largest donor to education, spending US$831 million in 2020.

President Emmanuel Macron has made education a key priority of his government’s international development policy. France considers global education both a pillar of international development and an instrument of France’s cultural diplomacy in the world. The 2021 development law denotes education as a key sectoral priority.

France is the ninth-largest contributor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), with US$378 million in funding since 2005, or 5% of the organization’s total funding. France has significantly increased its contribution to the GPE in recent years and has pledged €333 million (US$400 million) for 2021-2025 (10% of the organization’s total funding), making it the third-largest contributor to the GPE during that period. This pledge was complemented by the announcement of an additional €100 million (US$112 million) in grants for education to be disbursed bilaterally by the French Development Agency (AFD) over the next three years.

According to the conclusions from the latest French Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) meeting in 2018, within education, France focuses on

  1. Universal basic education;
  2. Inclusion of youth in the workforce;
  3. Women and girls’ empowerment;
  4. Democratization of higher education, research, and innovation; and
  5. Support for French culture and promotion of French language.

The French government views investments in education, alongside areas such as health and agriculture, as contributing to the stabilization of the Sahel region. Investments in the region focus on employability through education and training to strengthen the links between education, employability, and security.

According to the OECD, education was the largest sector of France’s bilateral ODA in 2020; it received US$1.6 billion or 12% of bilateral funding in 2020 including in-country student costs.

In-country student costs also distort the picture of France’s funding priorities within the sector. Two-thirds of France’s bilateral education ODA was spent on ‘post-secondary education’ in 2020 (US$1 billion). Nearly all of this consists of costs associated with students from low-income countries studying in France. ‘Vocational training’ is the second-largest sub-sector, with funding at US$139 million, or 9% in 2020. As ‘vocational training’ and ‘post-secondary education’ are considered important in supporting youth employability and, in turn, strengthening the economy – a key priority of France’s development policy – France will likely increase funding to these sub-sectors in the future.  

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. 8%, or US$130 million went to ‘secondary education. ‘

The MAE defines overarching priorities; AFD steers implementation

Within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE), the Directorate-General for Globalization, Culture, Education and International Development (DGM) and its ‘Sub-Directorate for Human Development’ drive strategies relating to France’s global education policies. The MAE is responsible for the allocation of resources to education ODA channeled through multilateral organizations and provides political guidance on the priorities of France’s bilateral education ODA. This is particularly true for programs implemented by the AFD. AFD is responsible for the implementation and design of education projects in partner countries. The ‘Education, Training and Employment’ division of the ‘Human Development’ department is the most relevant operational division. The Ministry of Education is involved in global education, insofar as it manages and reports costs of hosting international students.