» Financing the future of education: an interview with Alice Albright
25.10.2016 - Education Sector

Financing the future of education: an interview with Alice Albright


The Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Alice Albright, spoke about key funding challenges at the start of the Europe and North America Regional Consultation meeting on SDG4-Education 2030 held at the Organization’s Paris Headquarters from 24-25 October, 2016.

The event is part of a series of regional consultations to examine the implications of 2030 commitments for national and regional education development one year after the adoption of the new agenda. The GPE is a key UNESCO partner which supports 65 developing countries to ensure every child receives a quality basic education, prioritizing the poorest, most vulnerable and those in countries affected by fragility and conflict.

The Education 2030 Framework for Action recommends  that national governments allocate 4-6 per cent of their GDP and/or at least 15-20 per cent of their total public expenditure to education. Is this realistic for low- and lower middle-income countries (in the GPE)?

Our experience with the developing countries that GPE works with suggests that, yes, these are realistic goals for most. Each country moves at its own pace, of course, but most are making significant progress in the right direction. They all recognize that investing their own resources into education is essential for improving the lives of their citizens and their societies overall.

That progress is tied to the assistance and encouragement GPE provides: we offer technical guidance to help them set and implement strategies to expand their domestic financing for education, and provide incentives through our results-based financing model. 

Between 2002 and 2013, the average share of public expenditure on education in GPE partner countries grew from 15.2 per cent to 16.6 per cent. And this includes a large number of countries affected by fragility or conflict.

The Framework for Action states that “domestic resources will remain the most important source for funding education”. What is GPE’s position on this?

There’s no doubt that external aid plays an essential role in filling the funding gap, but domestic resource mobilization is by far the most important source of financing basic education. Domestic financing for education gives governments greater predictability and sustainability to finance their reforms.

The ultimate goal for any of these countries is self-sufficiency. That’s what they and donors want and support. Most developing countries are making steady progress in that direction but will need external support for some time to come.

GPE also supports civil society organizations to advocate for education. In Malawi, for example, the Civil Society Education Coalition urged national leaders to make education a priority. As a result, domestic education spending went from 12.5 per cent in 2010 to 16.3 per cent in 2014, as a proportion of national budget and from 4.4 per cent to 6.9 per cent as a share of the GDP, one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. 

What new financing models are being developed?

The Education Cannot Wait (ECW) fund represents a new model of funding – strictly for providing more funding for education in humanitarian crisis situations. It’s heartening that traditional donors are responding to ECW and many are using funds from their humanitarian budgets.

That reflects that the barriers that have for too long divided humanitarian and development aid may finally be lowering. Donors are also beginning to realize that there’s an advantage to providing funding across several different development sectors. They see that outcomes in health and education are closely linked and that it might be necessary to support initiatives that create better synergies between the two sectors.

In its September 2016 report, the International Commission for Financing Global Education Opportunity called for the creation of a multilateral development bank mechanism, which would be an investment mechanism for education.

The Commission envisions this new mechanism will be responsible for managing a number of promising financing tools, such as education bonds (similar to the International Finance Facility for Immunisation that I helped create at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance), disaster insurance for education, impact investing, and solidarity levies. All this could potentially mobilise USD20 billion or more annually, which would be a huge boost for education. We think there’s a lot of merit in this idea and will support more work on it.

How does GPE collaborate with UNESCO?

UNESCO is a member on GPE’s Board of Directors and a close partner at the country level. In several GPE partner countries, UNESCO is representing GPE serving as coordinating agency or grant agent supervising the implementation of GPE grant funding. We are very proud of this collaboration and look forward to further strengthening it.

What work is being done to increase the reliability of education finance data?

GPE’s results-based funding model requires governments to improve their reporting of critical education data to UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Our new results framework for GPE’s 2016-2020 strategic plan is also largely based on education data collected by UIS. One of our goals is to increase the number of countries that report at least 10 of the 12 key international indicators to UIS from 30 per cent now to 66 per cent in 2020. So, UIS is not just a crucial partner for GPE, its important work is essential to measure the progress of GPE’s impact.

GPE has also provided significant funding to UIS, IIEP and Pôle de Dakar to implement a collaborative project to help countries improve their national reporting systems, based on the National Education Accounts (NEA) methodology. The project maps all the sources of education funding, spending and economic transactions to produce a clear picture of every aspect of a country’s education financing

So far, this project has helped eight GPE developing country partners set up national information systems which is a wonderful start.

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