For anyone who was at the replenishment conference this week in Brussels for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), it was an exciting two days. The suspense was built up well by GPE, leaving expectations high for the outcomes of the event. Having just released new research showing that aid to education fell by 10% over the last two recorded years, everyone in the room knew that a lot was hanging on new commitments coming in.
The morning that pledges were to be made, supporting GPE’s calls for investment, the EFA GMR released a new paper with UIS showing that there are now 58 million children out of school. It is no coincidence that funds for education have decreased and out of school numbers flat-lined. We wanted this message to be loud and clear as donors and governments took the floor to make their announcements. ‘Now is the time’ was the message relayed by many a speaker on the stage.
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is an important source of financing for some low income countries, as we showed in the EFA GMR 2013/4. In 2011, the GPE disbursed a record US$385 million to basic education, making it the fourth largest donor to low and lower middle income countries that year.
Recognising the growing role of GPE, the EFA GMR published an open letter to Alice Albright on her taking up the role as Chair, calling on three key recommendations for her post at the head of the Fund.
The first recommendation was to renew the focus on mobilizing resources for education. It was therefore positive news to hear GPE announce they had rallied pledges worth $2.1 billion from donors – more than half way to their four year target of $3.5 billion, and a step change above the level of funds received at the last replenishment conference held for education. Although it will take time to fully analyse how much of this support was in excess of what was already committed to education, and how much GPE can be said to have added new mobilized resources, there is no doubt that the calls for investment will have spurred some into action who would not have otherwise. “Let’s get down to business” said Albright as she took the stage this week in Brussels. We all support her in doing just that to find the remaining 40% of their $3.5 billion by 2018.
While all donor commitments made yesterday should be applauded, some were noticeable by their silence. France, the Netherlands and Australia, for instance, did not use this occasion to reverse the downward trend of their contributions to education. The primary pledges came from the European Union, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom, painting a picture that is quite similar to the donor landscape for aid to basic education in 2012.
The second recommendation made to Alice Albright was for private foundations and corporations to disburse the funds they pledge through the GPE. Given this, it was heartening news to hear that private foundations had pledged commitments to GPE for the very first time.
Moves were also made towards answering our third recommendation – for greater transparency around private sector contributions — by listing the names of contributors on the Fund’s pledging page. However, more transparency is needed as to whether these funds are in addition to what they are already doing, and as to how they align with the principles of EFA goals.
These pledges make GPE an even more important mechanism for financing education in low income countries and, in doing so, make it even more vital for its disbursements to be timely and predictable. Much criticism was levelled at the EFA Fast Track Initiative (which the GPE replaced) for poor disbursement rates from its Catalytic Fund. The GPE committed itself to more timely and predictable disbursements, however, and we hope to see this play out in the pledges made this week. Certainly, having annual targets for when they disburse resources to a country would make the delivery of these funds easier to monitor.
It is good news to hear that GPE is on the way to reporting to OECD, which will help track and analyse global financing for education, and leave holes in funding exposed, which we can all then rally to fill. In addition to this increased transparency, just as the Global Fund for health provide details such as whether funds go directly to governments or through multilateral organizations or civil society organizations, the same level of disaggregation is necessary for GPE disbursements.
The responsibility for financing education ultimately falls to governments, so it was fitting that 27 developing countries committed to increase their own education budgets by US$26 billion. Growing economies in many of the world’s poorest countries have increased the resources they can raise domestically. Education should stand to benefit from these dynamics.
It is too early, as Julia Gillard, Chair of the Board of Directors of GPE, said, to claim that “the momentum of political will is clearly moving forward again,” but this week’s conference was a breath of fresh air to all of us who have been hearing solemn news about education in recent years.