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03 Nov 2014

The Elephant in the Post-2015 Education Room: What about the Global Governance of Education and Training? (Part 1) by Kenneth King and Robert Palmer

By Kenneth King and Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

Since at least 2012 there has been a significant amount of discussion and debate about what the post-2015 education and training focus should be, and about the content and wording of a possible education goal and its targets. With less than one year to go until the September 2015 UN General Assembly meeting, where it is expected that a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including one for education, will be agreed upon, there is increasing focus turning to the means of implementation; to questions of how to achieve these SDGs.

For the education sector there appears to have been very little discussion on how the proposed post-2015 education goal and targets will be implemented and what kind of macro-level governance structure may be required. Indeed, a crucial missing element of the post-2015 education discussions to date relates to the global governance of education and training. This issue is the elephant in the education post-2015 room. However, it is not one that is currently being addressed by the post-2015 education debates – including both the post-EFA debates and the post-MDG debate – and indeed it is not one that can be significantly altered by a new education goal framework anyway. The financing modalities for education post-2015 is also an under-discussed issue, that Pauline Rose has been trying to highlight.

What is the global governance of education and training anyway?

If you are reading this and wondering what this refers to and why it is important you are not alone. We asked an (admittedly unscientific) sample of 80 NORRAG members what they understood by this term.[1] The very great majority of respondents did not use the terminology itself at all, but were describing elements of what they perceived to be important influences of education at the global level. Taken in aggregate, it is these influences that we are concerned with when we talk of the global governance of education and training.

The global governance of education and training can be thought of as an organising framework for discussing how state and non-state actors[2] gain political authority and presence in education. How do they do this and how is it related to implementing post-2015 education targets?

These global education actors create formal and informal mechanisms by which they exert power and influence. The formal GGET mechanisms may include, for example: goals and targets (e.g. Education For All – EFA- Goals); laws, rules, conventions and charters; and, agreements, compacts, partnerships (including public-private partnerships – PPPs), and initiatives for policy and financial cooperation.

Let’s go back a minute; we said goals and targets? Indeed. This implies that the post-EFA targets and education SDG themselves are one, but only one, part of the formal mechanism of the global governance of education. It can be seen, therefore, that without changes in other formal mechanisms of governance, the impact of the post-2015 education goal and targets may be limited. But it does not end here. There are other global influencers at play – what might be termed informal mechanisms of global education governance – that will impact on the degree to which the post-2015 education goal and targets are influential and / or can be implemented. These mechanisms may not have been set up for the purpose of governing or regulating, but they clearly influence stakeholders when it comes to education, and some would argue that the power which they today exert has turned them into de facto mechanisms of global governance. Such informal mechanisms might include, for example, three domains:

  • Governing by “best practice – This would include the influence of education and training strategies and policy papers of grant- and loan-making development agencies, and the propagation of “best practice” knowledge and approaches (e.g. value for money, rate of return to education, competency-based training, national qualifications frameworks). These “best practice” approaches can become global norms that can influence the behaviour and prioritization of both national governments, and the grant- and loan-making development agencies themselves.
  • Governing by financial carrots and sticks – This would include the influence that grants and loans for education, as well as their associated conditionalities (now termed “triggers”), have in recipient countries. Equally, the financial carrot and stick can be used by OECD-DAC countries to influence the behaviour of international organisations, like the World Bank.
  • Governing by numbers – This would include the influence that data and indicators from assessments and testing (e.g. Programme for International Student Assessment – PISA, Trends in Maths and Science Study – TIMMS) have, as well as benchmarking and ranking approaches (e.g. Systems Assessment and Benchmarking for Education Results – SABER, world university rankings).

So to what extent are these areas of the global governance of education and training reflected in the post-2015 education and training debate and propositions? >>Read our next post

This blog is based on a forthcoming Working Paper, written by Kenneth King and Robert Palmer, on ‘Post-2015 and the Global Governance of Education and Training’, Working Paper #7, available late December 2014 for free at

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

Robert Palmer is an independent education and skills consultant. He also supports the Editor of NORRAG News and runs NORRAG NEWSBite. Email: Tweets @SkillsImpact

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 4,000 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

[1] While this sample of 80 members was not statistically representative of NORRAG members, the 80 people were selected because of their long-standing experience in international education and training from different regions of the world.

[2] These education-related actors include, for example: grant and loan receiving countries; Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) countries; Multilaterals (e.g. UNESCO, International Labour Organisation – ILO, World Bank); Regional Banks (Asian, African, Latin American and now BRICS Development Banks); Emerging donors; Private sector companies and coalitions; Private foundations; and, international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and think tanks.

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