South Korea - Education

Education has been a top priority, but could suffer under new government

South Korea spent US$210 million, or 11%, of its total official development assistance (ODA) on education in 2020, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC). This represents a 23% decrease from 2019 (US$271 million), making it the 11th-largest DAC donor to education in absolute terms and 13th largest in relative terms in 2020, in measuring ODA as a share of gross national income (GNI). South Korea considers education a key sector through which it can support partner countries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

In 2020, South Korea channeled US$193 million, or 92%, of its ODA to education bilaterally, above the DAC average of 70%. This includes US$27 million, or 13%, of education ODA channeled as earmarked funding to multilateral organizations, which is counted as bilateral funding. According to the ‘2019 Annual Implementation Plan,’ education was the fourth-largest sector receiving KRW255.5 billion (US$219 million) in 2019. This increased to KRW284.7 billion (US$244 million) in 2021 making education the third-largest sector. Education ODA as a share of total bilateral ODA remained stable at 10% in this period. 

Bilateral ODA to education in 2020 primarily targeted post-secondary education (36% of bilateral education ODA, or US$71 million), basic education (13%, or US$26 million), and upper secondary education (13%, or US$25 million). Multilateral ODA to education accounted for US$16 million, or 8%, of its ODA to education, far below the DAC average of 30%. The main multilateral recipients of South Korea’s ODA to education are the International Development Association (IDA; 5%, or US$11 million), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD; 1%, or US$3 million), and African Development Fund (AFD; 1%, or US$1 million). South Korea joined the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in 2014 and pledged US$15 million for the 2021-2025 replenishment period. The new pledge was confirmed at the ‘Global Education Summit’ on July 28, 2021 and is three times larger than the previous commitment of US$5 million, in response to the worsening education situation around the world. 

Education is one of the priorities of South Korea’s ‘2022 Annual Implementation Plan.’ Korea International Cooperation Agency’s (KOICA’s) ‘Education Mid-term Strategy 2021-2025’ envisions “inclusive development through quality education,” and its mission is “to ensure rights to education for all by improving the education system and enhancing educational participation in partner countries.” The current strategy outlines three strategic objectives which are linked to the targets of SDG 4 that seeks to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”:

  1. Quality education and learning achievement;
  2. Digital education to develop future capabilities; and
  3. Vocational and higher education to foster talents.

South Korea hosted the ‘2015 World Education Forum’ in Incheon, South Korea, where stakeholders identified key elements of the ‘Education 2030: Framework for Action,’ which laid out a vision for global education policy for the next 15 years and financing required to achieve the ‘Education 2030’ agenda.

Since 2016, South Korea has maintained a consistent education budget with funding committed to government programs, though levels dipped in 2020 due to South Korea’s increased focus on responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Gender equality, linked to girls’ education, has been a cross-cutting theme within South Korea’s development policy in the past. While girls’ health and education have historically been featured prominently in South Korea’s development portfolio, the newly inaugurated President Yoon Suk-yeol has demonstrated no interest in furthering gender equality; girls’ education programming could suffer as a result.

MOFA’s Development Cooperation Bureau guides international education policy

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) drives the formulation of South Korea’s global education policy. Within MOFA, the ‘Development Policy Bureau’ is responsible for developing policies (specifically the ‘Development Policy Divisions’ within the Bureau). MOFA’s ‘Multilateral Development Cooperation Division’ manages relations with multilateral education initiatives, such as GPE. Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA; overseen by MOFA) is responsible for the implementation of bilateral grants and other technical cooperation. The Korean Export-Import Bank (Korea Eximbank) implements projects for the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF), mainly in the form of ODA loans.