Last week the GPE organized its second Replenishment Conference. High-level attendance and pledges were clear indications that the GPE is becoming an ever more important institution in international education. This blog celebrates the news that the Fund will soon start reporting to OECD, and the benefits this will bring to the ability to effectively monitor financing for education.
Developing countries reliant on aid have traditionally faced huge challenges in accessing the necessary information on the external aid they receive for development, which remain crucial to helping them plan and effectively manage their resources. This is why clarity and transparency in aid flows is a key issue now and in the foreseeable future.
Within the health sector, both the Global Fund and the GAVI Alliance report their aid disbursements to the OECD, which annually collects information on where aid goes. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE), on the other hand, has to date not been reporting the funds it has disbursed, leaving it unclear exactly how much the poorest countries are receiving for education. It is therefore welcome news that the GPE is planning to become a reporting agency in the coming years.
There are four main reasons for celebrating this news:
- Knowing precisely how much aid low income countries receive for education
Over the last decade a large share of aid for education has been classed by the OECD as “bilateral unspecified”. Much of this murky ‘unspecified’ aid is likely to be made up of the funds from donors such as the UK, which are being channeled through GPE. This aid represents a substantial sum: In the case of total aid to basic education, levels have increased 8-fold over the last decade. As a share of total aid to basic education, aid packaged away as “bilateral unspecified” rose from 3% in 2002 to 12% by 2012 (Figure 1).
Until the GPE reporting begins, OECD aid data will only tell part of the story because some donors are reporting their GPE-related contributions transparently; others less so. This ambiguity undermines our ability to determine aid flows over time and by country. In the case of Ethiopia, for example, where well over 1 million children are out of school, current OECD data likely underestimate the amount the country receives through GPE, as can be said for other GPE recipient countries. In the future, however, it will become far easier to paint a fuller picture of aid resources available for education at the national level.
Figure 1: The rising importance of aid for basic education going to “bilateral unspecified”
Volumes and share of basic education aid disbursed to ”bilateral unspecified”, 2002-2013
2. Clarifying whether GPE has helped fill gaps in resources where other donors have pulled out
Over the last decade aid to basic education from the World Bank to low income countries has fallen from a high of US$383 million in 2002, to US$122 million in 2011, before rising a little in 2012 to US$189 million.
The World Bank believes that the GPE has stepped in to cover these shortfalls. The evidence would suggest otherwise. Tanzania and Uganda saw their aid to basic education from the World Bank cut to virtually nothing in the last few years, for instance. The first tranche of GPE funding to mainland Tanzania was disbursed in 2014, while for Uganda the funding status is still pending. Full reporting to the OECD-CRS will clarify whether other countries have seen or will see their declining aid levels covered by GPE disbursements, or not.
- Better accountability and transparency of GPE spending
If the GPE does grow into the role that was set out when the FTI was launched in 2004 and ensures that “no countries seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by lack of resources”, then it has the potential to raise substantial funds. Already over the past decade, the funds disbursed by GPE have risen significantly from US$15 million in 2004 to US$334 million in 2013. More recently, at the GPE Replenishment Round held in Brussels last week, pledges reached over US$2.2 billion. As the GPE becomes a more significant donor to education, so too there will be more pressure on improving the accountability and transparency of its disbursements. Reporting to the OECD-CRS is an important step towards this objective.
Figure 2: GPE disbursements 2004-2013, USD$ millions (current prices)
4. A good precedent for making other GPE finance data more transparent
While we commend GPE for taking steps to harmonize its aid reporting to OECD-CRS standards, more transparency will be required in coming years to assess the disbursements going from the GPE managing/ supervising entities in-country to governments. Any bottlenecks in disbursements at the national level are currently difficult to track due to a lack of comprehensive, transparent data. Yet the speed and predictability through which governments receive these funds is paramount to enabling them achieve the priorities set out in their national education sector plans. For a country like the Central African Republic, for example, where GPE funding made up 60% of the country’s total aid to basic education in 2011, information on whether these resources are being disbursed and spent as scheduled, and on what, is imperative to assess how effective the GPE is being in helping the country reach its goals.
The need for detailed, reliable and timely financial data in the post-2015 period is salient. GPE’s intention to become a reporting agency to the OECD-CRS is an important step in this direction, as is the fact that it submitted its first file to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Registry in June 2014. If we are to assess whether the GPE has indeed led an increase in resources for education in low income countries, as was its intended purpose, such information is critical. And it sets an important precedent for other donors towards greater data availability and transparency.