Education is a key priority for development policy under Macron’s government
In 2016, France was the fourth-largest donor country to education, after Germany, the US, and the UK. France disbursed US$1.3 billion in education ODA in 2016, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). This represents 11% of France’s total ODA, well above the 8% spent by donor countries of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) on average. France’s funding for education has remained rather stable over the past few years.
However, to get a full picture of a donor’s cross-border flows of education assistance, it is important to exclude scholarships and other costs of students from developing countries studying in donor countries. These costs are reported as ODA by some donors but are not spent on development programs abroad. In 2016, 59% of France’s education ODA (US$782 million) consisted of costs of students from developing countries studying in France. If these costs are excluded, France is the fifth-largest donor country to education (US$539 million). According to a 2017 Education Coalition report, French CSOs have raised two main concerns: First, bilateral education ODA should only include grants and school fees disbursed in France’s 17 priority countries, and second, an analysis should be conducted to assess the impact of these financing mechanisms on the reduction of poverty and the reduction of inequality, combined with a larger reflection on how to better support quality tertiary education.
President Emmanuel Macron has made education a key priority of his government’s international development policy. France considers global education a pillar of international development and an instrument of France’s cultural diplomacy in the world. In February 2018, France showed international leadership by co-hosting the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Financing Conference in Dakar, Senegal.
As per the conclusion of the latest meeting of the French Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) in February 2018 France will focus on: 1) universal basic education; 2) insertion of youth in the market place; 3) women and girl’s empowerment; 4) democratization of higher education, research, and innovation; and 5) support for la Francophonie to promote the French language. Further, the MFA’s 2017-2021 ‘Strategy for France’s external action for education, vocational training, and insertion in developing countries’ strongly emphasizes education programs with professional training and a linkage to the labor market. In parallel, France views these programs as instrumental for national security, particularly in the Sahel region. Investments in that region focus on employability through education and training, with a view to strengthening the link between education, employability, and security.
In 2016, France channeled 86% of its education bilaterally, above the average of the OECD DAC of 70%. According to the OECD, education is the largest sector of France’s bilateral ODA: it received US$1.1 billion in 2016, or 15%. This includes the high in-country student costs mentioned above. If these costs are excluded, bilateral education financing drops to US$351 million, making it just the 12th-largest sector of French bilateral ODA in 2016.
These costs also distort the picture of France’s funding priorities within education. Almost three quarters of France’s bilateral education ODA is spent on post-secondary education (US$828 million in 2016): Nearly all of this consists of costs associated with students from developing countries studying in France. Secondary education is the second-largest sub-sector, with funding at US$126 million, or 11%, in 2016. As secondary 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 – it is likely that they will continue to receive larger amounts of funding going forward.
Smaller shares of France’s bilateral funding for education are invested in ‘ general education’ (US$63 million, or 6% in 2016), which includes activities aimed at strengthening education systems. ‘ Basic education’, which includes primary education, accounts for 4% of France’s bilateral education ODA.
Virtually all of France’s bilateral education ODA is channeled through France’s public sector (96% or US$1.1 billion in 2016). This is due to the large amounts of education ODA provided by the Ministry of Education (under which scholarships and other costs of students from developing countries studying in France are reported), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE), and the AFD.
Geographically, bilateral funding focuses on the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region. The MENA region received 33% of bilateral education ODA between 2014 and 2016 on average, driven by funding to Northern African countries. This is well above the DAC average of 9%. The top recipient countries and regions of France’s education ODA are closely linked to costs of hosting international students: the top four recipients (Morocco, China, Algeria, and Tunisia) are also the top four countries of origin for international students in France. A quarter of funding (27% on average between 2014 and 2016) is allocated to programs in sub-Saharan Africa (slightly below the DAC average of 29%). With regard to income levels, France focuses its funding on middle-income countries: they received 74% of bilateral ODA between 2014 and 2016 (DAC average: 44%).
In previous years, France’s multilateral ODA for education has mostly comprised assessed contributions to the European Union (US$132 million in 2016) and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA; US$38 million). In total, core contributions to multilaterals stood at US$188 million in 2016, or 14% of France’s total education ODA.
As part of the government’s stronger focus on education, France is significantly scaling up its contributions to the Global Partnership to Education (GPE). At the GPE’s Financing Conference in February 2018, France committed €200 million (US$260 million using GPE’s official conversion) to the GPE Fund, accompanied by an additional €100 million (US$111 million) in bilateral funding through the AFD. Since 2002, France has contributed a total of US$116 million to GPE, making it the 11th-largest contributor (as of December 2017).
France is a relatively small donor to humanitarian aid efforts for education. In 2016, former President Francois Hollande pledged €100 million to support refugees for 2016 to 2018, half of which will be destined to the education of children living in camps, particularly in Lebanon. France also takes part in the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ initiative, a special fund launched in 2016 that aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crises. In April 2017, France committed €2 million for 2017 to the initiative. Overall, however, France’s funding for education in humanitarian assistance is still low: In 2016, it spent 2% (US$3.8 million) of its humanitarian assistance on education programs, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
The MAE defines overarching priorities; AFD steers implementation
Within the 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, in so far as it manages and reports costs of hosting international students.