In 2015, the world committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Education 2030 Framework for Action (FFA) within the next fifteen years.  For education, this includes a commitment to 'ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all' - regardless of personal, social or political context.

This global development agenda is more ambitious and broad in scope than anything that has come before it. As the world moves towards the implementation of the goals, it's crucial that the lessons learned over the last 15 years are taken into account - and the biggest lesson is that good intentions and political commitments can only be delivered when there is sufficient, good quality financing. While money alone will not guarantee success, it remains essential – to train and hire qualified teachers, to provide sufficient teaching and learning materials, to create safe and appropriate learning spaces.

How much money will be needed?

Reaching universal pre-primary, primary and secondary education – of good quality – in low- and lower-middle-income countries will require a total of US$340 billion per year. This will require low-income countries to spend 6.56% of GDP on education, which will still leave a funding shortfall of US$39 billion. Donor countries and the international community must play their part, and additional domestic resources must be generated – for example, by companies paying their fair share of taxes.

None of these calculations, however, include the full spectrum of lifelong learning, which world leaders have committed to ensure. In 2009 expenditure on adult literacy programmes was less than 1% of GNP in virtually every country, and much less in some developing countries. UNESCO estimated that US$28 billion is needed to fund the annual shortfall in recommended spending on adult education programmes in developing countries. The cost to eliminate illiteracy altogether was estimated at $156 billion annually; with 757 million young people and adults unable to read or write a simple sentence, costing the world an estimated US$1 trillion every year, this issue cannot be ignored.

What financial commitments have been pledged so far?

Disappointingly, there have been few concrete commitments to finance this new agenda. The Financing for Development Conference in July last year, which was supposed to set out how the SDGs would be paid for, did acknowledge the need to increase both domestic and donor financing for education. However, it ignored any reference to adult education, or lifelong learning – a key component of the education goal. Similarly, the Framework For Action recognises that the goals cannot be met without scaling-up finance, and that governments should invest at least 4-6% of GDP and 15-20% of their budgets in education. It also highlights that resources will need to be mobilised at national, regional and global levels to ensure ‘adequate financing for education’.

For most countries, this will mean moving towards greater tax justice – by developing progressive taxation systems, closing tax loopholes, and putting a stop to tax evasion, for example. Indeed, every year developing countries lose US$160 billion of tax revenue due to multinational corporations – considerably more than they receive in aid.

Global context

Of course, there are global issues at play which have an impact on financing the new agenda. The ongoing conflict in Syria is the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, and donor countries have been directing large amounts of aid to support the humanitarian effort.  However more recently, some donor countries have indicated they’ll use some of their overseas aid budget to deal with the costs of housing refugees in-country. This means there’ll be less money going to the countries directly affected by the crisis, and consequently less aid to education in the region.

Unfortunately this comes at a time when aid to education in general is declining. Almost all of the countries which have historically supported or prioritised education (Australia, the Netherlands, the UK, Norway and Denmark) have made worrying announcements about cuts to aid in the last five years -  indeed, some cuts were announced almost immediately after the SDGs and FFA were unanimously adopted last year. Denmark confirmed an immediate cut to funding to the Global Partnership for Education - the only global multilateral fund devoted to financing national education systems. It is vital that both donor and developing countries make good on their own pledges - and monitoring this is a priority for civil society over the coming months and years.

And while the private sector will also have a part to play in helping to deliver the sustainable development agenda, there is a need for vigilance over the increasing privatisation and commodification of education. Education is not a privilege - it is a fundamental human right, and governments have a responsibility to deliver this, free of charge.

Let’s get started

In turn, citizens must hold their governments to account for their promise of free, public, inclusive and equitable, quality education. A strong start is critical – and this first year of the implementation of the agenda provides ample opportunities to make sure citizens’ voices are heard.

Money may not be everything in the education sector, but without it, the ambition of realising the right to education for everyone will never be fulfilled.

The GCE movement will mobilise during Global Action Week for Education (GAWE), and for the whole of 2016, with the aim of ensuring that 

  • Individually commit to and take policy action to enable the implementation and financing of the Education 2030 Framework for Action
  • Deliver their existing financial bilateral and multilateral pledges to make measureable progress towards delivering mechanisms to ensure tax justice nationally, regionally and globally.