The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) 3rd replenishment conference (February 1-2) aims to confirm significant increases in commitments from partner countries and donors – old and new – in order to ensure that all children and youth are in school and learning. GPE’s goal is to reach US$2 billion a year by 2020 to deliver better learning and equity outcomes for some 870 million children and adolescents in 89 countries.
The increased pledges are demanded within a particular context of aid to education trends, the changing role of GPE, and the higher stakes with the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 4. With 387 million children not learning the basics, most of them in countries where GPE operates, it is crucial that partners scale their commitments to education up according to the GPE targets.
Aid to education has been stagnating
The 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report showed that aid to education in 2015 was 4% below 2010 levels. It further revealed that the education share of total aid fell for six consecutive years, from 10% in 2009 to 6.9% in 2015. Comparatively, the share of aid towards the health and population sectors increased from 11.4% to 15.9% between 2004 and 2013 (only witnessing a decline in the two years after that). Likewise, the aid share received by the transport sector caught up with education during the same time.
Yet, previous estimates by the GEM Report in 2015 had showed that low and lower middle income countries faced an annual education financing gap of US$39 billion over 2015–2030 if it were to achieve universal pre-primary, primary and secondary education. In low income countries, this is equivalent to 42% of the total cost (UNESCO, 2015). Even after factoring in ambitious domestic financing increases, aid to education in low and lower middle income countries would need to increase six times relative to the 2012 levels. This estimate was largely confirmed by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity in 2016. Instead, donors have continued to place lower priority to education and, often have not directed their aid to those countries most in need.
GPE has been increasing its share of aid to education and better targeting to countries in need
In a context of stagnating aid, GPE disbursements have reached to US$446 million in 2015, making the organization the second-largest multilateral donor to basic and secondary education after the World Bank. In 2015, GPE disbursements made up 12% of basic and secondary education aid in its partner countries, as compared to 6% in 2010.
In addition, with about 77% of its disbursements directed to sub-Saharan Africa and nearly 60% to countries affected by civil unrest or conflict, GPE has demonstrated effectiveness in targeting countries that are most in need. This is the result of the GPE allocation model, which takes both the needs of the education sector in the partner country and the income level of the country in question into account. In February 2017, GPE introduced a new allocation model based on a needs index.
GPE has also followed a number of good practices, including a robust process of assessing grant proposals, the focus of its support on the national education plan, and a process of joint sector review that aims to be consultative and broad. At the same time, its governance processes have aimed to strengthen the partnership elements.
What should we expect?
With this new replenishment round, GPE seeks to increase annual disbursements by four times. Overall, momentum and visibility around the conference, boosted by the endorsement of major donors, including the European Union, France and the United Kingdom suggest that achieving the $3.1 billion target could be a watershed moment for education globally. Success in meeting the target would be good news after the last replenishment round fell short and especially in a political climate that is not very supportive of multilateralism.
Depending on the success of the replenishment round, up to US$240 million may also become available for the GPE’s new Knowledge and Innovation Exchange mechanism to fund research and policy analysis. This would be great news for an area of work that is often neglected. A forthcoming GEM Report policy paper on the financing of global public goods in education will address where responsibilities for their provision lie.
But the total volume raised at the conference should not distract us from the fact that US$2 billion is a far cry from the US$39 billion financing gap. This is especially so if it only means a larger share a stagnant total aid pie. We should not forget that GPE was originally established not as a fund but as a catalyst of increased spending by governments and donors alike. The conference calls upon the responsibility of all partners.
In preparation for the replenishment conference the GEM Report has produced this factsheet containing key GEM Report findings and resources prepared for partners that are advocating for the need to #FundEducation.