How big are the global spendings on aid to education and how are they distributed?

The recently issued Unesco policy paper on the latest figures of levels of aid to education focuses mainly on an assumption that COVID-19 outbreak is a great obstacle for development aid level recovery. Yet the document also encompasses a lot of positive valueable facts and trends that should not be disregarded.

According to the policy paper in 2018 total aid to education reached the historical high and mounted up to the sum of USD 15.6 billion. This is an increase of 9%, or USD 1.25 billion, relative to the year before. In comparison to 2010, the previous record year, spendings on aid to education and particularly basic education have risen by 16% and 10% respectively.

«Education has long been losing ground as a donor priority» is an important trend to be considered. The share of education in overall aid allocated to sectors fell from 14.8% in 2003 to 11.7% in 2010 and even further to 9.7% by 2013. Since there is has slightly increased to 10.8%, but still not reached 2010 levels. The decline of education is even more notable, as other sectors have generally maintained their share of direct aid over time or even strenthened their positions, e.g. energy health, population and reproductive health sectors.

The structure of aid disbursments to primary and secondary education is far from perfect. Aid to basic education reached USD 6.5 billion in 2018, the largest amount ever recorded and primary education accounts for about 90% of that sum. Of that sum, low-income countries got 31%, compared to 23% in 2015 as lower-middle-income countries witnessed their share decrease from 46 to 33 percent during that period. Moreover a sufficient amount of aid (19% or USD 1.1 billion) of aid to primary education and half of that sum to secondary education are not country-specified. Even if all unspecified recipients of aid to basic and secondary education are low- and lower-middle-income countries, the total amount of aid to basic and secondary education was US$7.4 billion in 2018. The rest went to upper-middle- or even high-income countries and to post-secondary education. In other words, only 47% of aid to education goes to the two of three sub-sectors and the two groups of countries most in need.

Aid to secondary education reached USD 3 billion in 2018, which is also a record-high sum and 56% of it was accounted to vocational training programs. Low-income countries share is 30%, a sufficient increase from 2015 with 24% rate. Lower-middle-income countries suffered their share decrease from 51 to 39 percent. In terms of regional allocations, the main change since 2010 has been the growing share of Northern Africa and Western Asia, because of the lasting crises in Syria and Yemen. At the same time the share of Sub-Saharan Africa has decreased by 10% in the last 10 years, probably because of like-to-like increase to unspecified countries in this period.

Aid to post-secondary education reached USD 6.1 billion in 2018, again the largest amount on record. Excluding budget support allocated to post-secondary education, it consists of direct aid to post-secondary education (31%), scholarships for students in recipient countries to study abroad (21%), appr. 1/3 of which is not allocated to specific countries, and imputed costs for students studying in institutions of donor countries (48%).

Nevertheless, an overview of the general trendlines of 2017-2018 across all levels of aid to education suggests positive outputs, although improvements in the field of aid targeting are desparately needed. Moreover it’s no good to know that according to UNESCO analysis presented in the policy paper is expected to shrink by 12% in 2018-2022. Hence, all donors should remember of the positive change they made possible and get back to their futher support.