This NORRAG Highlights is contributed by David Archer, Global Lead for Economic Justice and Public Services with ActionAid (www.actionaid.org) and Stakeholder Convenor for the Transforming Education Summit Action Track on Financing. In this blog post, the author reports on the outcomes from the Transforming Education Summit (TES), with a focus on the financing agenda, which he qualifies as a “major breakthrough”, although lots of work remains to be done to convert the call to action into substantial commitments.
It is not easy to synthesise the full set of outcomes from the Transforming Education Summit (TES) that took place on 16, 17 & 19 September 2022 – but a major breakthrough was made in respect of the financing agenda. The Call to Action on Financing Education launched on the Leaders Day is a bold assertion of what needs to be done to transform the financing of education over the coming years. In summary it calls for:
More investment, reinforcing the benchmarks of 4-6% of GDP and 15-20% of national budgets, emphasising the need to increase real investment per student and to increase tax to GDP ratios through ambitious and progressive tax reforms with linked commitments towards education.
More equitable spending, increasing allocations to the 40% and 20% of families with lowest incomes or most vulnerable; tracking and reporting investments in a disaggregated and gender responsive way; prioritising pre-primary and investing more in lifelong learning.
More efficient spending, through increased accountability, improving teacher workforce development, linking sector planning and budgeting, and encouraging a whole-of-government approach.
More international financial contributions, reasserting the 0.7% of GNI for aid and establishing for the first time a benchmark that 15-20% of aid should be earmarked for education; seeking more support from multilateral development banks, including through the newly launched International Finance Facility for Education (IFFED); helping countries to increase fiscal space and addressing debt distress; and agreeing new approaches for financing education of refugee and displaced people.
More international support for national efforts, including:
- Prioritizing global actions on taxes, supporting international reforms that can help countries increase their tax income in a rapid and progressive way, shifting international financial institutions country-level dialogue to be bolder and more progressive on tax reforms, and ensuring global rules do not push countries into “race to the bottom” strategies in terms of taxes and harmful tax incentives. This includes global action on tax loopholes, agreements on a global asset register, the reduction of illicit financial flows, unfair trade taxation, acting on tax havens and promoting a process for setting fair global tax rules.1
- Revising the international financial and debt architecture to ensure sufficient financing can be mobilized in support of long-term, sustainable development objectives, including by removing conditionalities that require cutting expenditure on education as a pre-requisite to attain new financing, and using innovative tools such as debt-for-education swaps.
- Supporting action on debt relief, restructuring, and in some cases, cancellation, for any countries spending more on debt servicing than education.
- Urging the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international financial institutions to remove existing obstacles such as public sector wage constraints that prevent increased spending on education; and champion policies that will allow significant new recruitment of professional teachers wherever there are shortages.
- Finding new solutions and mechanisms that can unblock funding and advance the case for a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) and reallocation of existing SDRs to countries most in need to invest in education.
- Creating new norms and formulas to help Ministries of Finance and Governments as a whole factor in long-term returns to investment in education so that education spending is not seen purely as a consumption expenditure in medium term expenditure frameworks and other planning / budget documents.
This radically re-frames the traditional discussions about education finance that normally focus only on international aid or the share of the budget going to education. For the next few years this broader agenda should frame the finance work of the Global Education Cooperation Mechanism and the Education 2030 High Level Steering Committee. Progress should be tracked by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report and discussed at the annual Global Education Meeting. This agenda should inform the financing work of the Global Partnership for Education, including the dialogue that it supports between Ministries of Education and Ministries of Finance at country level.
Crucially TES should lead to a new dialogue at international level with the International Monetary Fund about how their policies impact on education. One of the biggest disappointments of TES was that the IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, who was due to speak, pulled out at short notice. The TES Finance agenda should be on the formal agenda of the coming Annual or Spring meetings of the IMF, with progress tracked every year in those forums. As this agenda makes abundantly clear, breakthroughs on financing education cannot be made unless there is a substantial and sustained dialogue between the education community and key actors working on tax, debt, macro-economic policy and the overall financing of the public sector workforce. It will be important too for a higher level strategic discussion on education financing to take place in the World Bank – far above the usual discussions with the Bank’s education department.
There is a lot of work to be done to convert this call to action into substantial commitments and pressure will need to be sustained nationally and internationally. Thankfully there was a powerful youth and student voice at the Summit – and it is important to ensure that representative youth and student movements are at the table at every level, articulating with teacher unions and connecting with wider education movements (something that is envisaged at the Global Campaign for Education World Assembly in November in Johannesburg). To advance this full financing agenda it will be important for education movements to get out of the education bubble, to engage in more strategic processes of change, connecting with Ministries of Finance and Heads of State and finding new alliances with tax and fiscal justice movements, feminist movements and other public service movements (for example at the Our Future is Public conference in Chile later this year).
David Archer is the Global Lead for Economic Justice and Public Services with ActionAid (www.actionaid.org). He was the Stakeholder Convenor for the Transforming Education Summit Action Track on Financing. In the 1980s David researched adult learning programmes inspired by Paulo Freire across Latin America, developing the Reflect approach in the 1990s (www.ReflectionAction.org). He is a co-founder of the Global Campaign for Education (www.campaignforeducation.org) and Chair of the Right to Education Initiative (www.right-to-education.org). From 2018-2020 he served as chair of the Strategy and Impact Committee of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and he continues to serve on GPE’s Finance and Risk Committee.
 See NORRAG Special issue 05: Domestic Financing: Tax and Education. https://www.norrag.org/nsi-05-domestic-financing-tax-and-education/