NGOs decry France’s shortcomings in education aid

264 million children worldwide don't go to school and sub-Saharan African countries are most in need of education aid. [Shutterstock]

Around 264 million children worldwide don’t go to school. The Education Coalition in France denounces the country’s lack of education focus on development aid programs. EURACTIV France reports.

The Education Coalition, uniting 16 civil society organisations, met with Brigitte Macron on Monday (6 November) to discuss the country’s commitment to boosting education abroad.

The French president wants to spend 0.7% of the nation’s GDP on development aid by 2030 (and 0.55% by 2022). This means an increase of at least €3 billion.

If France allocates 15% of total development aid to education, this would result in €655 million more by 2020. According to Education Coalition, this part needs to be entirely devolved to primary and secondary schooling in low-income countries and fragile states.

France’s reputation is at stake: it already ranks badly among donor countries for its expenditure on education, and it doesn’t target its expenditure on the most needy countries or on primary education, which is the priority.

Education is the cornerstone of development, by allowing individuals to develop, reach their full economic potential and improve their health, as well as reduce the risk of conflicts and reduce emissions to limit climate change. This is what Coalition Education writes in its recently published new report.

All governments agree that development aid remains a necessary part of expenditure. Yet, enthusiasm decreases when it comes to reaching for the wallet. Education-related policies are by their very nature long-term, which does not fit well with politicians’ shorter mandates.

Despite its commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its educational dimension, the international community is not doing enough, civil society representatives say.

The Observatory of French Aid to Education estimates that, at the current rate, “we will have a delay of at least 50 years in the effective implementation of the Global Education Framework for Action”, which aims to achieve education for all by 2030.

French bilateral aid

In France, education absorbs nearly 15% of official development assistance (ODA), an encouraging but insufficient figure. And most importantly, according to experts, this support is poorly distributed: it is not primarily directed to the 17 countries that need it most, especially sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel.

And rather than focusing on basic education, it finances secondary studies in France. Basic education accounts for only 16% of bilateral aid to education, a meager 2.5% of overall ODA.

“Over 70% of education aid is allocated to post-secondary and secondary education, almost all of which is absorbed by scholarships and tuition fees, which France spends on receiving and training foreign students on its territory”, regrets Carole Coupez, chair of the Education Coalition.

Accounting for these expenditures as development aid is questionable, and there is no evidence that they have any effect on the educational systems of the South since many of the students concerned then remain in France. Developing countries lose their most promising elements.

The Education Coalition, therefore, requires a real impact analysis in order to be able to evaluate clearly how aid expenditure on French soil contributes to development.

Only Germany has more scholarships and tuition fees than France, for a total of just under one billion euros, far ahead of the other members of the Development Assistance Committee: Japan reported about €17 million in scholarships and tuition (4.6% of its education aid), Denmark €5 million (7.5%), and the United Kingdom €87 million (10%), according to OECD figures.

Global Partnership and Multilateral Aid

In February 2018 France will co-chair with Senegal the Financing Conference of the Global Partnership for Education. So far, Paris has offered a very limited contribution to this initiative: €7.7 million, compared to the €118 million granted by the United Kingdom, for example. The EU gives €35 million euros.

The coalition hopes that Emmanuel Macron will announce on this occasion a very substantial increase in the French donation. “We recommend a contribution of more than €255 million euros for the period between 2018 and 2022,” said Léa Rambaud, spokesperson for the Education Coalition.

A feasible target, in her opinion. “France co-chairs the conference, it must be accompanied by a strong commitment,” she said.

It’s a hope shared by Julia Gillard, Chair of the Board of Directors of the partnership, who believes that the conference “will be an opportunity for a radical change essential.”

The partnership recommends that 15% of ODA is dedicated to education, and 10% to basic education.

In Europe

In terms of support for education, the European institutions are lagging behind France, since education represents only 4.9% of total ODA.

In the case of education aid, on the other hand, basic education is more in the spotlight, accounting for 23.5% of aid to education. However, the EU remains far behind Washington, where this figure is 72%.

Closer to home, some EU members are also doing better, with the UK and Ireland allocating 30.6% and 32% respectively of their aid expenditure to primary education.