United Kingdom - Education

The UK is the fourth-largest donor to global education and focuses on girls’ education

The UK spent US$996 million or 6% of total ODA to education in 2020, below the DAC average of 10%. This makes the UK the fourth-largest donor to education in absolute terms, but only the 24th-largest in relative terms. Contributions to education peaked in 2016 when the UK made large disbursements to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC), a 12-year commitment launched in 2012 by Department for International Development (DFID) to educate marginalized girls.


In 2020, the UK spent US$292 million (29%) of its ODA for education as core funding to multilaterals. This is right at the DAC average (30%). Top recipients included EU institutions (EU; 15% of total ODA to education), the International Development Association (IDA; 9%), followed by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA; 3%). The UK relies much more heavily on bilateral channels for its ODA to education. In 2020, it spent US$703 million (71% of ODA for education) bilaterally with a focus on ‘primary education’ (25%), ‘education policy and administrative management’ (16%), ‘education facilities and training’ (14%), ‘higher education’ (14%), and ‘upper secondary education’ (13%).

Included in the UK’s bilateral funding flows is ODA channeled as earmarked funding through multilaterals. In September 2019, the government announced £300 million (US$385 million) for the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd) a new initiative to mobilize finance for education projects through donor grants and guarantees, which the UK has been highly engaged in creating. The UK is one of the largest donors to Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a global fund launched in 2016 to improve access to education during humanitarian emergencies and crises. Total UK contributions amount to £124 million (US$159 million), including an additional £5 million (US$6 million) announced in April 2020 to support emergency education during the COVID-19 crisis.

Tackling gender equality, which includes ensuring girls’ education, is one of the four key priorities within the UK’s international development strategy (2022), with the primary aim being to ensure that every girl would receive 12 years of quality education. Specifics on this goal will be laid out in the ‘2022 Women and Girls Strategy’ which is forthcoming. The UK government also unveiled a new five-year (2021-2026) global action plan on girls' education in 2021 with the following commitments: 1) shape a renewed international effort to ensure the world is on track to reach the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on 'Quality Education'; 2) use its network of British Ambassadors and High Commissioners to support committed national governments to enhance their efforts to improve girls’ education; and 3) establish global public goods for education.

The UK co-hosted the GPE’s fourth replenishment with Kenya in 2021 and became one of the largest bilateral donors. It pledged £430 million (US$551 million) between 2021 - 2025 - a 15% increase from its previous pledge on a per-annum basis. This announcement is part of a larger summit aim to raise £5 billion (US$6.4 billion) over the next five years for girls’ education through the GPE. The UK used its 2021 G7 Presidency to drive commitments on meeting a set of intermediary targets on girls’ education (including a commitment to get 40 million more girls in low and lower-middle-income countries into education by 2026) and announced £55 million (US$71 million) to establish 'What Works Hub for Global Education'. The Hub will seek to share knowledge on "what works" to improve girls’ education, with a special focus on Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Pakistan.

Despite these major G7 pledges, advocates expressed concern that the announced UK budget cuts seek to undermine growth in the education sector. The FCDO’s Girls’ Education Department program outturn in FY2020/21 was £203 thousand (US$260 thousand) but it is projected to fall to £133 thousand (US$171 thousand) in FY2021/22 representing a 34% cut.

FCDO is responsible for directing the UK’s development assistance policy for education

The FCDO is responsible for the UK’s development assistance policy for education. The FCDO has created a new Girl’s Education Department. The UK Prime Minister has also appointed a Special Envoy for Girls’ Education, Helen Grant. Education is under the responsibility of the Director General for Humanitarian and Development, Nick Dyer.