Single Blog Title

This is a single blog caption
19 Jan 2015

Global Governance of Education and Training in the Age of Globalization: The Growing Importance of Cross-Border Externalities of National Education Policies by Birger Fredriksen

By Birger Fredriksen, Consultant, Washington (formerly World Bank).

Growing interdependence between countries means that national policies increasingly have impact beyond national borders. As a corollary, to stimulate positive – or to limit negative – cross-border effects requires collective actions.  This need is easy to understand when it comes to addressing climate change, spread of infectious diseases (e.g. Ebola) or global economic slowdowns. In such areas, various types of global governance systems have been developed to promote “Global Public Goods” (GPG)-type of actions or to avoid “Global Public Bads”. The key driver for such cooperation is that effective outcomes require collective action.

In the education and training sector, addressing cross-border effects of national policies was not the key driver for the Education for All (EFA) and education Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These were driven by other GPG concerns, especially promoting human rights and socio-economic development including poverty alleviation. But, as noted below, there are many reasons to expect that the need for collective action to address cross-border effects of national policies will increase in the education sector as well. In turn, that will mean a growing need for global governance systems that go beyond the human right dimension to include such effects.

A global governance system requires agreements among countries in three areas: (i) Rules to be respected/goals to be attained to address common concerns; (ii) Mechanism(s) to track progress; and (iii) Measures to stimulate/enforce that those who ratify the agreement meet their obligations. Following this three-prong approach, in the education sector, countries have agreed on:

  1. Global goals (EFA, MDGs). Much of the global governance discussion now focuses on the post-2015 follow-up to these goals. However, in addition, many treaties/ conventions/ charters/ protocols have been agreed over the last several decades to govern international cooperation in the education sector in a wide range of areas. The UNESCO website on such legal instruments lists 19 agreed since 1960, including the 1960 UN “Convention against Discrimination in Education”. To this must be added many “standard-setting instruments”, such as the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED);
  2. Monitoring mechanisms. These include the EFA Global Monitoring Report and various MDG monitoring reports. Monitoring of standard-setting instruments is done through separate mechanisms set up by UNESCO for such each instrument;
  3. Enforcement mechanisms. This is the most complex challenge since implementation is the responsibility of sovereign states. So far, enforcement relies mostly on a combination of: (a) Aid to help developing countries reach agreed goals; (b) “Institutional peer pressure” through the outcomes of the monitoring; and (c) Increased pressure from voters and civil society to hold governments accountable for progress in improving access to good quality education.

Global governance in education increasingly needs to address cross-border effects of national education policies. In fact, Article 26 of the 1948 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” already recognizes one important such effect: “It [education] shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace”.

UNESCO plays a key role in operationalizing this component of the Declaration. For example, its program on “Global Citizenship Education” helps countries promote values, knowledge and skills needed to be responsible global citizens and remove barriers on cooperation in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st century. A key aspect of this is to revise curricula and textbooks that often reinforce stereotypes, exacerbate social divisions, and foster fear and resentment of other groups or nationalities. Fostering global citizenship is also one of the three goals of the “Global Education First Initiative” launched by the UN Secretary-General in 2012.

Education has multiple other cross-border effects and these are growing in step with increased interconnectedness among countries. Globalization is not only shaking up most sectors of the economy; it also accelerates global mobility of students, academic staff and skilled labor. Over the last decades, migration of skilled labor has been especially high for doctors, nurses and teachers moving from poor to richer countries. This “brain circulation” creates losers and winners. However, over time, “brain drain” may turn into “brain gain” for countries that manage to reverse the migration flow and attract investments from its diaspora. Further, remittances impact both the supply and content of education in the migrants’ home countries. Poor opportunities for education and employment at home is also a force driving the migration of low-skilled workers.

Better global education governance is especially important for poor, small states that often are ill-equipped to harness the benefits and limit the risks caused by other countries’ national policies. As noted, the most complex part of global governance arrangements is effective enforcement. For the MDGs and EFA goals, the enforcement — such as it is — focuses on developing countries. Will this change for the post-2015 goals?

The growing cross-border impact of national education policies also raises important questions regarding the effectiveness of global governance of education aid. The outcomes of the processes determining the allocation of aid by purpose, education level and country leave much to be desired in terms of resulting in strategic, evidence-based use of this very scarce resource (see Fredriksen, 2011).  In particular: In 2011, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) received only 27% of all education aid, down from 36% as an average for 2002-2003. And despite solid research evidence on the positive impact of women’s education on children’s schooling, health and nutrition as well as on women’s empowerment and productivity, practically no aid is used to support second chance programs for the 30% of SSA women aged 15-24 years who in 2015 are projected to be illiterate.

The international community must urgently review the ability of the existing global aid architecture to provide the global education aid governance needed post-2015.  If not rapidly bridged, the gap in basic human capital development between most SSA countries and the rest of the world could have increasingly serious negative cross-border effects as illustrated by the Ebola epidemic and the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean. And the gap is growing since, despite SSA’s good progress in many areas over the last decade, other developing countries did even better. As a result, SSA is projected to have 47% of the world’s illiterate women aged 15-24 years in 2015 (up from 20% in 1999) and had 52% of the world’s out-of-school children in 2011 (39% in 1999). SSA also accounts for 49% of the world’s children dying before the age of 5 (19% in 1970) and for 32% of the world’s children stunted from malnutrition (15% in 1990). In 2050, SSA is projected to account for 38% of the world’s new-born (30% in 2015). Unless drastic actions are taken over the next decade, around 1/3 of SSA’s labor force would likely be illiterate in the 2020s and 2030s, and more than 1/3 of SSA’s children would be born to illiterate mothers. How can the global aid governance structure become more successful in helping SSA countries break this vicious cycle of inequity and poverty?

Birger Fredriksen is a consultant based in Washington. Before retiring, he worked for 20 years in the World Bank including as Director for Human Development for Africa, and 12 years in the OECD and UNESCO. Email:


Further Reading on Global Governance of Education and Training:

>> NORRAG NEWS 51 Education and Skills Post-2015 and the Global Governance of Education: Agendas and Architecture

>> NORRAG Working Paper #7: Post-2015 and the Global Governance of Education and Training, by Kenneth King and Robert Palmer (December 2014)

Other NORRAG Blogs by Birger Fredriksen:

>>Building Basic Human Capital in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by 2030: A Huge but Feasible Funding Challenge (November 28, 2013)

>>Education Aid and the “Transformative Shifts” Called for by the Post-2015 Agenda (September 9, 2013)

>>More Effective Education Aid: The Challenge of Achieving More Evidence-based Aid Allocation (July 23, 2013)

>>More Strategic Use of Education Aid to Promote Education Equity (December 3, 2012)


NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

(Visited 199 times, 1 visits today)
Sub Menu
Back to top