Universal education will cost €20.7 billion a year, says Unesco


Ambitions to achieve universal education and improve teaching quality in the world’s poorest countries will be jeopardised, unless the $22bn (€20.7bn) funding needed every year is found, a UN agency has warned. 

Aid to low-income countries for education must be increased five-fold to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being discussed by UN member states, according to a report published on Wednesday by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). It urged donors to ramp up their funding.

Donors will need to spend $10.6bn a year on educational programmes in low-income countries in order to progress towards the SDG targets. Middle-income countries will need $11.8bn, according to Unesco. These figures do not include previous aid flows, which have in recent years totalled $4.4bn.

Governments cover many educational costs themselves, but ambitious targets will require more external help than is currently on offer, Unesco said. Educational aid to low-income countries amounts to about $2bn a year, and aid to middle-income countries costs a similar amount, Unesco said. “This number would have to increase five-fold to enable these countries to meet post-2015 education targets,” it added.

The report projected that the annual cost of working toward educational goals in low- and lower middle-income countries will more than double from $100bn in 2012 to $239bn annually between 2015 and 2030.


Programmes to improve educational systems in low-income countries will cost $36.3bn, while lower middle-income countries will need $202.9bn, according to Unesco.

Low-income countries are defined by the World Bank as states with a gross national income (GNI) per capita of $1,035 or less. Lower middle-income countries have a GNI per capita of between $1,036 and $4,085.

The sustainable development goals (SDGs), which are due to be agreed later this year and come into force in 2016, seek to send all children to school for a minimum of ten years and call for quality early childhood development programmes.

They aim to end dropout rates in primary and lower-secondary schools and improve the quality of learning by recruiting more teachers and driving class sizes down.

“Failure to address the current $22bn funding gap for global education will jeopardise the new SDGs, potentially setting progress back over 30 years,” Unesco said. “Without a doubt, substantial new investment is needed if the world is to achieve the key education targets of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.”

The average yearly cost of sending a primary school student to school in a low-income country will rise from $65 in 2012 to about $200 by 2030, the study said. The cost of recruiting more teachers and raising their salaries, providing better learning materials and building new classrooms accounts for this rise, it said.

But 121 million children of primary and lower-secondary school age are still not enrolled in educational programmes, Unesco said, underscoring the scale of the challenge ahead. Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan have the largest number of children not in school.

The educational targets in the SDGs are an improvement from the Millennium Development Goals, said Manos Antoninis, a policy analyst at Unesco and author of the report. “We are happy because essentially the new SDG […] sees education as a whole. It doesn’t limit itself to primary education, which I think is essential.”

Unesco warned that poor data meant that 49% of public expenditure data was not available between 2000 and 2013, and that no data was available for Nigeria. Costs associated with getting students into tertiary education and vocational training were not included in the report, it said.

Gordon Brown, the UN’s special envoy for global education, has called for more funding to boost education networks in low-income countries. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which mobilises experts to offer support and advice on achieving sustainable development, has also pushed for more funding.

The report called for renewed attention to the financing of educational development targets ahead of the UN’s international conference on financing for development, which will be held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 13 July.

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