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 2019 was US$1.6 billion, making it the second-largest Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donor. This represented 11% of total ODA, in line with the DAC average of 10%.

In 2019, most funding to education was channeled bilaterally (84%). Core contributions to multilaterals stood at US$251 million in 2019, or 16% of France’s education ODA, mostly comprised of assessed contributions to the European Union and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA).

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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 2019, 56% of France’s education ODA (US$874 million) consisted of such in-country student costs. Excluding these costs, France is the fifth-largest donor to education (US$696 million). Starting in 2019, the government aimed to raise the fees for university students coming from countries outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), meaning that a much lower share of the costs associated with their studies would be reportable as ODA, which will likely induce a decrease in in-country student costs reported by France, and in turn of France’s overall education ODA.

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.

France co-hosted the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Financing Conference in Dakar in 2018 and is the 11th-largest contributor to the GPE (US$293 million since 2005), and France has pledged €200 million (US$224 million) to GPE for 2018-2020. 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. Funding for the GPE is reported as bilateral ODA. In 2019, the GPE opened an office in Paris.

According to the conclusions of the latest meeting of the French Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) 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 la Francophonie to promote the French language.

Investments in education, alongside areas such as health and agriculture, are viewed by the government as contributing to the stabilization of the Sahel region. Investments in that 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 2019; it received US$1.3 billion or 14% of bilateral funding in 2019 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 2019 (US$898 million). Nearly all of this consists of costs associated with students from low-income countries studying in France. Secondary education is the second-largest sub-sector, with funding at US$131 million, or 10%, in 2019. 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 funding to these sub-sectors will increase in the future.  

Basic education’, which includes primary education, accounts for 9% of France’s bilateral education ODA. Smaller shares of France’s bilateral funding for education are invested in ‘general education’ (US$90 million or 7% in 2019), which includes activities aimed at strengthening education systems.

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.