Education is a top focus of Norway’s development policy, particularly for girls

Norway is the seventh-largest government donor to global education, spending US$346 million on education ODA in 2015, according to OECD data. This represents 8% of Norway’s total ODA, in line with the OECD average, and makes it the 12th-largest donor to education as a proportion of its total ODA. Unlike other donors, Norway spends almost all education ODA on education programs abroad: It reports almost no scholarships and other costs of students from developing countries studying in Norway as education ODA.

The outgoing center-right government of Prime Minister Erna Solberg made education one of Norway’s top development policy priorities. This was outlined in Norway’s April 2017 white paper on development priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ‘Common responsibility for the common future – sustainability goals and Norwegian development policy’. In line with this political priority, funding to education has grown and will continue to do so. In 2013, Prime Minister Solberg pledged to double education ODA from NOK1.7 billion (US$211 million, or 7% of total ODA) to NOK3.4 billion (US$422 million, or 13% of total ODA) by 2017. OECD data confirms this trajectory. Education ODA increased by 43% since 2013, from US$242 million to US$346 million in 2015. The increase is driven by greater spending on primary education, which grew from US$125 million in 2013 to US$197 million in 2015. This is in line with Norway’s focus on achieving universal primary education as a fundamental human right and key driver of development. The Norwegian government expects to meet its doubling pledge in 2017 as planned.

In addition to increasing its own financial support, Norway has assumed international leadership in bringing global education, and particularly girls’ education, higher on the development agenda: Prime Minister Erna Solberg co-initiated the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity and hosted the Oslo Summit on Education for Development in 2015. The Commission aims to set the course on how to promote and find innovative financing solutions for education in order to achieve the SDGs. Norway has also championed improving education services in humanitarian crises: Norway is one of five founding donors of the initiative ‘Education Cannot Wait’, a special fund launched in 2016 that aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crises.

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

Norway reports the vast majority of its education ODA as bilateral funding: 90%, or US$311 million in 2015. Bilateral investments focus on basic education (69% of bilateral education ODA in 2015), which mostly consists of support for primary education (92% of ODA for basic education). Other funding priorities include general education (19% in 2015), which primarily consists of support for system strengthening, facilities, and training. Funding to both of these sub-sectors (basic education and general education) has grown substantially between 2013 and 2015: 43% and 35% respectively.

These funding priorities align with Norway’s stated emphasis on primary education, system-level improvements, facilities, and teacher training, as detailed in its 2013-2014 ‘Education for Development’ strategy. The strategy was published in June 2014 but is still an accurate statement of the current government’s priorities. The strategy outlines three overarching goals: 1) ensuring all children have the same opportunities to complete schooling, 2) ensuring all people acquire basic skills, and 3) ensuring that as many kids as possible acquire skills that contribute to transitioning into the labor market. Around these three main goals, the strategy outlines specific prioritized actions, including:

  • Working toward free, high-quality primary education for all, including for girls and marginalized populations, such as those with disabilities
  • Ensuring literacy and other basic skills
  • Working to ensure that girls start and complete secondary education
  • Working to provide safe and secure school facilities
  • Ensuring continuity of education during humanitarian crises, including increasing funding for education as a component of humanitarian assistance
  • Helping improve national education systems and teacher training
  • Building up opportunities for high-quality vocational training

Norway helps meet its priority of girls’ education through multilateral commitments, such as to UNICEF, which received NOK1 billion (US$124 million) between 2015 and 2017, directed toward ensuring girls’ access to education, and through the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Bilaterally, it also requires civil society organizations (CSOs) that receive financial support to ensure gender equality as an integral part of their programs.

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

The government focuses bilateral support on areas where Norway has the most in-depth knowledge and expertise, and prefers multilateral channels overall: More than half of Norway’s bilateral ODA to education is channeled as funding to multilateral organizations (58% in 2015). Key recipients of these earmarked funds are UNICEF, UNESCO, GPE, and the UN’s initiative for girls’ education. Additionally, 26% of bilateral funding is channeled through NGOs and other CSOs, commonly to reach children and young people in fragile situations. Such organizations include Save the Children, Norwegian People’s Aid, Norwegian Church Aid, and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Because so much of its bilateral education ODA goes through multilaterals, much of Norway’s education ODA is not allocated by income group (53% on average between 2013 and 2015) or region (49%). Nevertheless, 31% of Norway’s bilateral education ODA went to low-income countries (LICs), above the OECD DAC average of 30%. Counting only the funding allocated to specific countries, 67% of Norway’s bilateral education ODA goes to LICs.

Geographically, sub-Saharan Africa is the focus. More than a quarter (26% of Norway’s bilateral education ODA between 2013 and 2015) went to the region, above the DAC average of 25%. Counting only funding allocated to specific countries, this share rises to 50%. Norway’s focus countries for cooperation on education confirm this focus on Africa.  All three focus countries are in Africa: Ethiopia, Malawi, and South Sudan. In addition, Norway has close cooperation with the educational sector in Palestine, Pakistan, Madagascar, and Burundi. Norway also helps to promote education in countries in fragile situations through bilateral funding schemes, including to Afghanistan, Burundi, Pakistan, Nepal, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. 

Norway shows strong leadership in multilateral initiatives and places a strong emphasis on multilaterals within its education ODA. Core contributions to multilateral organizations with education programs amounted to US$35 million in 2015, or 10% of Norway’s total education ODA. Key recipients are the World Bank’s International Development Association (US$13 million) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (US$11 million). Adding the bilateral ODA channeled through multilaterals to these figures, 62% of all Norway’s education ODA is dispersed through multilateral organizations. Norway is the third-largest donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), having contributed US$413 million (as of March 2017) since 2002. Norway’s 2015 contribution to the GPE totaled US$45 million, according to GPE data: This makes up 13% of Norway’s overall education ODA in 2015. Norway reports support for GPE as bilateral ODA to the OECD. It has committed US$270 million to GPE for the 2015-to-2018 period, more than doubling its US$100 million pledge for 2011 to 2014.    

Norway is one of few countries globally which regards education as an explicit component of its humanitarian assistance policy and has shown leadership on this in international initiatives. Norway is one of five founding donors to the Education Cannot Wait initiative, committing US$10 million in 2016. Norway also works with the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). In 2015, Norway hosted the May 2015 conference ‘Safe Schools: Protecting Education from Attack’. The Safe Schools Declaration was endorsed by 50 countries during the conference.

According to the government, Norway spent 5% of its humanitarian assistance budget on education in 2015 and 9% in 2016. Due to differences in reporting practices, data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) for 2015 shows that 4% of Norway’s funding for humanitarian assistance was allocated to the education sector (US$23 million). This still places Norway among a small number of donors that has achieved the UN’s target of contributing 4% of humanitarian assistance to education.

Norad leads on education policy development

In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), State Secretary Laila Bokhari, is responsible for Norway’s global education portfolio, and sets strategic priorities. In January 2017, the MFA’s appropriation letter to Norad articulated that Norad was to take responsibility for global health and education. These issues had previously been managed by the MFA’s Department of Regional Affairs, which includes individual regional departments and embassies. The implications of this change are as yet unclear. As a result, however, Norad’s budget has increased for 2017. Traditionally, Norad’s Department for Global Education and Health advises MOFA on development assistance for education and carries out evaluation processes. Norad’s Department for Global Health in Education also plays a key role in evaluating progress around Norway’s education priorities.