In August this year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commissioned an Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) to come up with key recommendations necessary to bringing about a data revolution in sustainable development. Among the 9 key principles now being proposed are data disaggregation, data timeliness, data transparency and openness, and data resources and capacity.
Currently in most countries, the data we do have only give a very incomplete and partial picture of the resources available for education. With a more ambitious set of education targets for post-2015 framed with equity at their center, it is essential to be able to track in a timely fashion how much is being committed and to which groups in particular.
Some of the challenges to this ambition are as follows:
- Breakdown spending by education focus: current expenditure data from both governments (reported by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics) and donors (reported by the OECD-DAC) present a wealth of data but currently do not align exactly with the education targets proposed for post 2015.
- Breakdown spending by type: very few tools currently exist that provide timely and consistent data on what is being spent within countries. Data is lacking on what is spent on education by sub-region, by income level and on different groups of children such as by disability or gender.
- A changing donor landscape: the post-2015 agenda has been marked by an interest in the plethora of new actors who might help finance the SDG goals. Data on what NGOs, the private sector, philanthropic organizations and emerging donors are giving to education currently remains un-transparent and extremely fragmented. It is hard to deduce whether resources are new, or are part of previous commitments.
- Timeliness of public expenditure data: current data on what resources have been approved to be spent, and how much ends up being spent, needs to be produced in a far more timely fashion than at present. Aid disbursements to education for the year 2013, for instance, will only be available at the end of 2014 making it nearly two years out of date. The same is true of government commitments.
Let’s not reinvent the wheel
We do not need a data revolution to overcome these challenges. We need to strengthen and augment the current diagnostic tools so that they can more efficiently track what is being spent on education, by sub-region and on different groups post-2015.
Over the past decade a number of new diagnostic tools have been introduced and others have been scaled up so that we can better track public domestic spending on education: for example, Public Expenditure Reviews, Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys and Country Status Reports. While these are largely donor supported, they remain invaluable for exposing the extent to which households still bear a large part of the bill for education. They also provide a robust source of evidence to potentially inform policy change on financing education.
New mechanisms are also emerging that give a better picture of spending from sources outside of governments. To date, over 280 organizations are reporting to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, including donors, NGOs, private companies and foundations. This initiative’s move to report all development finance beyond just traditional donor aid will contribute to better monitoring post-2015.
Setting up development assistance databases in 35 countries and aid management platforms in over 20 countries has similarly enabled governments to better track and monitor development projects and programs, including in the education sector. Additionally, the Reporting Commitment provides a picture of the philanthropic landscape by region. These mechanisms are an important starting point to build on. They will be useful reference points for aligning spending by each of the future education targets, and for seeing how much is being spent and by who on which income groups and in which regions.
Lastly, the experience of the health sector – where National Health Accounts have been institutionalised in 193 countries – is something that the education sector and the UN Advisory Group can learn from. So far, National Education Accounts (NEAs) have only been piloted in five countries including Nigeria. The initial data collection efforts are costly – due in part to the low capacity of many ministries of education – and can range from US$0.5 to 1.5 million. Once institutionalised, however, costs decrease and they prove an invaluable tool. Donors and the private sector could provide a crucial role in helping countries with the resources, technical expertise and technology needed for this scale-up in data collection post-2015.
One of the biggest failures of the EFA period has been the unsuccessful response to the pledge that ‘no country would be prevented from achieving the goals due to lack of resources’. To prevent this from happening again post-2015, countries need to assess investments against education targets sooner rather than later. We know from experience that countries need predictable finance and that education outcomes – unlike other sectors – cannot be achieved over a short period of time once funds are spent. To prevent falling into the same traps as in the past, it is crucial we know from the start who is going to be committing to which target, where and when.