Japan is the 5th-largest donor to education; education for women and girls increasingly a focus

Japan is the fifth-largest donor country to education, contributing US$762 million in official development assistance (ODA) flows to this sector in 2016, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data. In relative terms, Japan ranked 21st out of members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries in 2016, allocating 5% of its total ODA to education. This is below the OECD average of 8%.

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

Some countries report costs of scholarships and other tuition costs of hosting students from developing countries as ODA. To get a full picture of a donor’s flows of education assistance, it is important to exclude these costs; some of them are reportable as ODA but do not constitute transnational financial flows. If we exclude these costs, Japan ranks fourth among the 29 OECD donor countries in absolute terms, overtaking France, which disbursed a large share in bilateral education ODA (59%) that consists of such scholarships and tuition costs. Japan, in contrast, only spent 4% of its bilateral education ODA on such in-country costs in 2016.

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

Japanese spending in the education sector has declined over time, from a peak of US$1,050 million in 2011 to US$762 million in 2016, a decrease of 38%. Between 2013 and 2014 alone, Japan’s ODA to education fell from US$796 million to US$652 million. This is mainly due to a decrease in bilateral funding, with funding supporting education policy and administrative management, and basic education overall, both cut in half between 2013 and 2014. Looking forward, ODA to education will likely stay stable or decrease slightly, given a continuously difficult ODA budget environment. Japan’s bilateral education ODA (discussed in greater detail below) makes up a large, and increasing, portion of total education ODA. It stood at US$559 million in 2016 (the latest year for which bilateral spending data is available), an increase from US$479 million 2015.

Japan’s long-term development policy document, the ‘Development Cooperation Charter’, lists education as a prerequisite for quality growth, along with healthcare, women’s empowerment, quality water and sanitation, food and nutrition, and lower inequality. Education was also listed as a priority in Japan’s fiscal year (FY) 2017 ‘Priority Policy for International Cooperation’, in which Japan’s development priorities for the FY are defined. The policy priorities for FY2017 (April 2017 to March 2018) are divided into three key areas. Within one of the three policy priorities ‘Addressing global issues toward achieving the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and promoting human security’, education is listed as one of six areas Japan will promote cooperation in.

Japan has shown international leadership on education since 2016, particularly in the area of girls’ education. During its G7 presidency in 2016, Japan announced the ‘Development Strategy for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’, which focuses on women’s empowerment through promoting women’s rights and supporting female leadership. As part of this initiative, Japan will support a training program for 5,000 female officials and professionals and is working towards improving access to quality education for 50,000 female students. These two programs will be funded between 2016 and 2018. The G7 commitment also included enhancing education for 20,000 people in the Middle East with the purpose of preventing instability caused by youth unemployment.

During the United Nations (UN) ‘High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals’ in July 2017, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida announced Japan will contribute US$1 billion by March 2019 to achieve the SDGs. This includes Japan’s contributions to women’s empowerment and education, but does not specify how much funding will go to any particular sector. Since then, new commitments of development assistance for education have included ¥3.2 billion (US$29 million) to build a teacher training college in Cambodia, and ¥2.4 billion (US$22 million) to build earthquake-resistant and disability-friendly schools in Mongolia.

Japan channels most of its education ODA bilaterally: US$559 million in 2016, an increase from US$479 million 2015. Almost half of this (47%, or US$264 million) was allocated to programs in post-secondary education. 11% of this funding was for costs of scholarships and fees to support students from developing countries studying in Japan. Another 35% (US$197 million) of Japan’s bilateral education ODA in 2016 went to general education system strengthening. This mainly comprised spending on education facilities and training and education policy and administration. Basic education received 11% (US$59 million) of bilateral ODA to education in 2016, which was almost entirely driven by support for primary education.

These funding shares largely reflect the priorities outlined in Japan’s new education strategy ‘Learning Strategy for Peace and Growth - Achieving Quality Education through Mutual Learning’, which Japan developed in the context of the SDGs in 2015. The three priority areas are:

  • Achieving “inclusive, equitable and quality learning”. This entails collaboration with partner countries on education to support the establishment of self-reliant and inclusive (especially for girls and other disadvantaged groups) education systems. It also includes support for improving learning environments and quality of delivery, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (so-called STEM subjects).
  • “Industrial, science & technology human resource development and sustainable social economic development”. Japan aims at supporting the full education cycle from primary to secondary to higher education in close collaboration with the Japanese private sector as well as providing education programs for foreign students in Japan.
  • Establishing and expanding an “international/regional network for educational cooperation”. This includes Japan promoting South-South cooperation to improve regional capability to tackle common challenges as well as enhancing collaboration with international organizations, such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) or the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

The largest share of Japan’s bilateral education ODA is directed to low-income countries (LICs) (36% between 2014 and 2016). This is close to the average of 37% among countries in the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC).  Almost half of bilateral education ODA goes to Asia (average of 46% between 2014 and 2016), which is in line with the general focus of Japan’s development assistance in the region, and well above the DAC average of 21%. Until 2015, the biggest recipient of Japan’s bilateral education ODA was Indonesia, which received US$28 million that year. In 2016 Myanmar over took Indonesia to receive US$58 million, or 10% of Japanese bilateral ODA to education.

The second-largest recipient region is sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), receiving 20% of all education ODA directed to developing countries between 2014 and 2016. This is below the DAC average of 29%. Education assistance to countries in SSA could increase in the coming years due to funding flows resulting from commitments made as part of the 2016 Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Kenya. TICAD is a conference organized by the Japanese government to promote Africa’s development. TICAD VI was held in Kenya in 2016 – the first time it took place in Africa. Two of the three priority areas identified during the conference refer to education, with special emphasis on vocational training. In total, Japan committed US$30 billion in private- and public-sector funds to Africa at the conference. Contributions that form part of Japan’s TICAD VI commitment have included a ¥1.5 billion grant (US$14 million) to Benin to renovate primary schools in the country, pledged in December 2017.  The next TICAD will be held in 2019 and will be held in Yokohama.

Japan channels the majority of its bilateral education ODA through the public sector (65% in 2016), which includes direct bilateral support to partner governments as well as programs managed by its implementing agency, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and other public institutions.

In addition to bilateral support, Japan provided US$202 million in education ODA through its core contributions to multilateral organizations in 2016 (27% of Japan’s total education ODA). Three‑quarters of this funding was channeled through the World Bank’s International Development Association IDA) (75%, or US$152 million). Japan also supports the GPE, with contributions totaling US$25 million since it joined in 2008. For the second replenishment for 2015 to 2018, Japan pledged US$6 million. As part of this pledge, at the February 2018 financing conference, Japan committed to providing the GPE with US$2 million in 2018, and a further US$1 million subject to government approval. Japan has so far not pledged new funding for the 2018 to 2020 financing period. Japan shares a GPE board seat with Korea, Australia, and the United States. The country reports GPE contributions as bilateral ODA to the OECD.

Japan considers education in fragile environments important for recovery from crisis. Both its education commitments during the Japanese G7 presidency and its recent increase in funding to GPE were connected to efforts to combat the lack of education in humanitarian crises. However, Japan has not yet committed funding to the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ initiative. Education Cannot Wait is a special fund launched in 2016 that aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crisis.   

Education accounted for only 2% (US$20 million) of Japan’s total humanitarian assistance in 2016. The global share of humanitarian assistance spent on education was 2.7% in 2016, according to OCHA. This is significantly below the 4% target established by the UN Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

MOFA sets priorities for education; JICA formulates bilateral education projects

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), led by Foreign Minister Taro Kono, sets priorities for education, in consultation with other ministries. Within MOFA, the International Cooperation Bureau is in charge of policy design and ODA budget development. The Bureau’s Global Issues Cooperation Division is responsible for multilateral and some sector policies including education. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), led by Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, mostly manages the costs associated with students from developing countries studying in Japan. JICA’s department for Human Development is also involved in education project formulation, especially with regard to bilateral funding.