Norway - Education


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

According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Norway’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) to education reached US$371 million in 2019, making Norway the sixth-largest donor country to global education. This represents 9% of Norway’s total ODA, slightly below the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) average of 10%.


The successive governments of Prime Minister (PM) Erna Solberg have made education Norway’s top development policy priority since 2013. This focus was reiterated in Norway’s April of 2017 white paper on development priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ‘Common responsibility for the common future – the SDGs and Norwegian development policy’. In line with this political priority, funding to education has grown significantly. According to the government, and in line with former PM Solberg’s pledge, the education ODA budget doubled between 2013 and 2017, to reach NOK3.4 billion in 2017. OECD data confirms this trajectory, with funding doubling between 2013 and 2017, then remaining at high levels (US$371 million in 2019). The increase was driven by greater spending on primary education, which grew from US$134 million in 2013 to US$242 million in 2019. This is in line with Norway’s focus on achieving universal primary education as a fundamental human right and key driver of development.

A vast share of Norway’s education funding is disbursed bilaterally (93% in 2019, or US$343 million). However, much of Norway’s funding reported as bilateral is in fact earmarked to multilateral organizations: in 2019, 60% of the US$343 million mentioned above went through multilaterals. Key partners included the United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Global Partnerships for Education (GPE), the World Bank, and Education Cannot Wait (ECW, see below). In 2018, Norway committed NOK2.1 billion (US$276 million according to GPE’s conversion rate) to the GPE for 2018 to 2020. In June of 2021, Norway announced to pledge a further NOK3.7 billion (US$430 million according to GPE’s conversion rate) to GPE for the period between 2021 and 2025, hence NOK740 million (US$86 million) per year. Annual contributions from 2021 on will therefore increase by NOK50 million (US$6 million according to GPE’s conversion rate) compared to the previous 2018-2020 pledge.  As of November of 2021, Norway was the fourth-largest donor to the GPE, having contributed US$720 million since 2002 (10% of total funding).

Norway’s budget for education, research, and professional cooperation ODA stands at NOK2.6 billion (US$274 million) for 2022. In 2020, education programs suffered cuts (around NOK165 million, or US$19 million) to offset increased needs in health that emerged as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. These were largely drawn from initiatives for which activities and progress were slowed because of the pandemic, and included a funding cut of NOK50 million (US$6 million) for the Norhed program (Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development), and of NOK14 million (US$2 million) for the Norpart program (Norwegian Partnership Programme for Global Academic Cooperation). Payment to the GPE was postponed until 2021 (see above). In addition, the government has proposed to increase the flexibility of the education budget to allow funds to be reallocated so that funds budgeted for education can be used to finance health-related measures that promote the right to education.

In its 2013-2014 ‘Education for Development’ strategy, the Norwegian government emphasizes primary education, system-level improvements, facilities, and teacher training as focus areas. The strategy was published in June of 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.

In addition, Norway is one of few countries globally which regards education as an explicit component of its humanitarian assistance policy and it shows international leadership in this area. It is one of five founding donors to the ECW initiative, a special fund launched in 2016 that aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crises (for more details on funding for education in emergencies, see our Donor Tracker’s insights piece: ‘Decades of neglect: Donor financing for education in emergencies’. Norway has pledged a total of US$77 million to ECW, making it the fourth-largest contributor. In 2020, Norway announced an additional NOK20 million (US$2 million) to support education in emergency aid for children and youth impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and in 2022 pledged NOK500 million to ECW (US$55 million according to ECW’s conversion rate). In its 2018 humanitarian strategy, the government committed to continue to prioritize education in crisis and conflict setting, as well as to promote closer coordination between humanitarian and development efforts in education. According to the government, Norway spends more than 8% of its humanitarian assistance budget on education.

Norway also assumes international leadership in bringing global education in general, and particularly girls’ education, higher on the development agenda: 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’s bilateral investments focus on ‘basic education’ (71% of bilateral education ODA in 2019), which mostly consists of support for primary education. Other funding priorities include ‘general education’ (16% in 2018), which primarily consists of support for system strengthening, facilities, and training. Funding to basic education has grown by 15% between 2015 and 2019.

In 2019, the government published a white paper on ‘Digital transformation and development policy’, a part of which covers education. This largely focuses on access to development of and access to digital tools for education.

Norad leads on education policy development

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is responsible for Norway’s global education portfolio and sets strategic priorities. Traditionally, the Department for Global Education and Health with Norad (Norway’s development agency) advises the MFA on development assistance for education, carries out evaluation processes, and manages funds allocated from the MFA. Norad’s Department for Global Health in Education also plays a key role in evaluating progress around Norway’s education priorities.