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COVID-19 may set aid to education back by six years, UNESCO warns


Audrey Azoulay

A new policy paper by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report has warned that global aid on education may decline by $2 billion as a result of recession caused by COVID-19. This meant a 12 per cent drop in international support for education.

Aid to education in 2018 reached a record $15.6 billion, an increase of nine per cent from the previous year. From one year to the next, it rose by six per cent for basic; seven per cent for secondary; and 12 per cent for post-secondary education, providing each with the highest amount of aid ever recorded.

The report noted that without new measures, aid to education would only reach 2018 level in 2024, which posed a serious threat to the recovery of the sector from the unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic.

In her remarks, the UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay said, ”Just as aid to education seemed to have recovered its lost momentum, the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to take us back several years. 


“Faced with the havoc wreaked by the pandemic, aid to education will arguably be more important than ever before. Countries will need additional funding to respond to the pandemic and education must be prioritised both in terms of aid and domestic allocations to avoid a setback to our global education goal, SDG 4,” she added.
Despite these increases, the UNESCO boss said only $7.4 billion, or 47 per cent went to basic and secondary education in low- and lower-middle-income countries, the two sub-sectors and two country groups perceived as most in need. 
In assessing the impact of COVID-19, the GEM report estimated that the pandemic is likely to have a more damaging impact than the financial crisis of 2007-2008 as the recession affecting the top 10 bilateral donors for education is expected to be more than twice as severe.

According to UNESCO estimates, if current national spending levels on education as a percentage of GDP were maintained, national funding for the sector would decrease by $296 billion in 2020, further aggravating the situation.

Director of the GEM report, Manos Antoninis said, “An estimated $8 trillion has been committed to pandemic responses by governments so far, helping to secure their health systems and economies. But prospects for aid are linked to the impact of the crisis on donor budgets. Previous financial crises have impacted the allocation of aid for several years after the crises were over. We should therefore not underestimate the ricochet effect this pandemic could have on social services for years to come.”
The report further assessed the impact of GEM and the fundraising platform for the sector, which showed that there is currently a lag of about three years between grant approval and disbursement.

The amount disbursed in 2019 fell back to 2010 levels. In 2018, GPE aid made up of 6.7 per cent of total aid to basic education in low- and lower-middle-income countries dropping from 11.4 per cent in 2014.
The report read in part, “Three donor policy responses would be key over the next 12 months. First, the COVID-19 pandemic is also an education crisis. The share of education in total aid must be protected. Second, as countries need additional funding for COVID-19 responses that were previously not programmed, it is necessary to ensure flexibility in support so that existing programmes can be restructured and realigned to help countries ensure that COVID-19 is only a temporary setback. Third, obstacles in the implementation of traditional bilateral aid programmes may provide a chance for bilateral donors to consolidate fragmented aid efforts, shifting a larger portion through multilateral channels.”


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