Germany - Education

Germany is the world’s top donor country to education, but high costs for students in Germany distort the picture


Germany is the largest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donor country to global education, spending US$3.1 billion of its official development assistance (ODA) on education in 2019. This represents 12% of Germany’s total ODA (DAC average: 10%), making it the eighth-largest donor in relative terms. Compared to 2018, Germany’s total ODA for education has increased by 12%. Between 2015 and 2019, the sector has seen a 43% growth in funding.

To get a full picture of a donor’s cross-border flows of education assistance, however, it is important to exclude scholarships and other costs of students from partner countries studying in donor countries. Parts of these costs are reported as ODA by most donors but are not spent on development programs abroad. In 2019, these costs amounted to US$1.6 billion, or 50% of Germany’s overall education ODA. Even excluding these costs, Germany was the largest donor country to education in 2019 (in absolute terms), followed by the United States, and the United Kingdom. Germany would rank much lower in relative terms (17th, with 6% of total ODA) if in-country student costs were excluded. Civil society organizations (CSOs) have criticized the high amount of student costs reported as ODA, raising concerns that these ODA-accountable costs are not linked to the overall development cooperation strategies set by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Germany provides the majority of its education ODA as bilateral funding: 89%, or US$2.8 billion in 2019 (DAC average: 70%). A small portion of Germany’s bilateral funding is earmarked funding through multilaterals; in 2019, it represented 7% of total education ODA (DAC average: 13%). The largest share of bilateral education ODA in 2019 (excluding in-country student costs) was directed towards ‘vocational training’ (US$432 million, 35%). ‘Education facilities and training’ ‘primary education’, and ‘higher education’ also received significant shares of bilateral funding with 21%, 19%, and 12%, respectively.

This funding pattern largely aligns with the priorities for Germany’s global education policy detailed in the BMZ’s education strategy, published in 2015, which defines three priority sectors: 1) basic education, 2) vocational training, and 3) post-secondary education. The strategy places a focus on the African continent and, increasingly, on countries affected by fragility and conflict, aiming to provide equal opportunities for access to education for all children, improve the quality of education (e.g., through teacher training), and promote inclusiveness and gender equality. Vocational training is a focus for Germany. The government stresses the added value of Germany’s support in this area given its long-standing expertise and the success of the German dual vocational training system, in which training is partly school-based and partly company-based.

Germany channeled 11% of its education ODA through multilateral organizations in 2019, with the highest shares going to EU institutions and the International Development Association (IDA). In recent years, Germany has contributed significant shares to two education multilaterals, although OECD classifies these contributions as bilateral ODA to education. In particular, Germany is a founding member of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and has contributed US$228 million to the GPE Fund since 2005 (as of June of 2021). As part of its COVID-19 program, the BMZ has increased its funding to GPE from €50 million (US$56 million) to €75 million (US$84 million) both in 2020 and 2021. Germany committed €316 million (US$375 million) to GPE for the period between 2021 and 2026. Part of this are Germany’s contributions of  €100 million (US$117 million) to BMZ’s new initiative 'SHE – Support Her Education', thereby supporting the GPE’s new financing mechanism Girl's Education Accelerator (GEA). GEA provides resources to support opportunities for girls to attend school and learn in countries where girls’ education has been a major challenge. Germany has also contributed US$138 million to the multilateral education fund 'Education Cannot Wait' (ECW) for the period of 2017-2021. In January 2022, Germany announced €200 million (US$226 million) in new and additional multi-year funding to ECW. This pledge increases Germany’s total contributions to ECW to over €318 million (US$360 million) and makes Germany the largest donor to ECW.

Education has received increased political attention and funding in recent years as part of Germany’s initiatives to tackle the “root causes” of migration, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The government’s focus is on strengthening vocational training systems as part of a wider effort to foster labor markets and job creation in these regions. Promoting basic education, dual training, and further education are priorities of Germany’s overarching development policy in the 2021-2025 coalition treaty (with a stronger focus on access to digital technologies). According to the BMZ’s new ‘BMZ 2030 Strategy’ (launched in May of 2020), all of the BMZ’s activities in basic education will be channeled multilaterally going forward.

BMZ’s ‘International development policy; 2030 Agenda; climate’ department guides education policy development

The Directorate-General 4 ‘International development policy; 2030 Agenda; climate’ and within it the ‘Education’ division’ (division 402), develops the BMZ’s overall education policy, provides operational guidance for the implementation of projects, and represents Germany on the GPE Board. However, the programming of bilateral development assistance for education is driven by regional divisions. Based on overarching priorities and regional quotas, the regional divisions develop projects in cooperation with partner countries and are responsible for the allocation of Germany’s bilateral development assistance.