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

Japan is the fifth-largest donor country to education, with US$619 million in official development assistance (ODA) flows to this sector in 2015, according to the Organiation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data. However, 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. Education ODA accounted for 7% of Japan’s total ODA in 2015, slightly below the average among OECD donor countries (8%). This ranks Japan 15th among OECD donors on education ODA relative to its total ODA flows.

Japanese spending in this sector has declined relative to its level a decade ago, from US$1 billion in 2006 to US$619 million in 2015, representing a 38% decrease. Japan’s spending on education fell in the more immediate time frame as well, from US$713 million in 2013 to US$584 million in 2014. 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. ODA to education slightly rose again in 2015 to US$619 million. Looking forward, ODA to education will likely stay stable or decrease slightly, given a continuously difficult ODA budget environment and a lack of strong government commitment to education.

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

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 reduction in inequality. Education is also listed as a priority in Japan’s annual ‘Priority Policy for International Cooperation’, in which Japan’s short-term development priorities are defined. The document lays out priority areas for one fiscal year (FY), spanning from April to March the following year. The priority areas for FY2017 (April 2017 to March 2018) are divided into three key areas. Education is mentioned within one of the three key areas, specifically ‘Addressing global issues toward achieving the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and promoting human security’. Within this key area, education is one of six issues that Japan identifies, the others being health, gender equality, climate change, disaster prevention and tsunami countermeasures.  

In addition, Japan has shown international leadership on education recently, 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 is currently (between 2016 and 2018) supporting a training program for 5,000 female officials and professionals and is working towards improving access to quality education for 50,000 female students. 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 ‘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 2018 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 area.

Japan channels most of its education ODA bilaterally: 69%, or US$429 million, in 2015. Almost half of this (45%, or US$194 million) was allocated to programs in post-secondary education. Another 38%, or US$163 million, of Japan’s bilateral education ODA in 2015 went to general education system strengthening in 2015. This mainly comprised spending on ‘education facilities and training’ and ‘education policy and administration’. Basic education received 10%, or US$41 million, of bilateral ODA to education in 2015, which was almost entirely driven by support for primary education. The funding priorities 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. The priority areas listed 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 marginalized groups) education systems. It also includes support for improving learning environments and quality of delivery, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
  • “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 within 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 education ODA is directed to low-income countries (LICs) (36% between 2013 and 2015). This is above the average of 30% among countries in the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC).  More than half of bilateral education ODA goes to Asia (52% between 2013 and 2015), which is in line with the general focus of Japan’s development assistance in the region and well above the DAC average of 37%. The second-largest recipient region is sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), receiving 21% of all ODA directed to developing countries. This is below the DAC average of 25%. 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. Two of the three priority areas identified during the conference reference education, with special emphasis on vocational training. In total, Japan committed US$30 billion in private- and public-sector funds to Africa.

Japan channeled the majority of its bilateral education ODA through the public sector in 2015 (55%), 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 its bilateral support, Japan provided US$190 million in education ODA through its core contributions to multilateral organizations in 2015 (or 31% of Japan’s total education ODA). More than three‑fourths of this funding was channeled through the World Bank (78%, or US$148 million). In addition, Japan 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. In 2015, Japan provided US$2 million to GPE, which corresponds to 0.3% of its overall education ODA that year. In March 2017, Japan increased its commitment by a further US$740,000 to support emergency education for displaced children in Chad. 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 has placed a focus on education in fragile environments. Both its education commitments during the Japanese G7 presidency and its recent increase in funding to GPE (see above) were connected to efforts to combat the lack of education in humanitarian crises. Nevertheless, 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 4% of Japan’s total humanitarian assistance in 2015. This was above the global average of 2% and in line with the UN Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) target of 4%, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

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.