Funding Global Public Goods in the Education Sector: A Growing Challenge

By Raymond Wanner and Birger Fredriksen, Members of IIEP’s Governing Board.

iiepThe importance of the issues dealt with by this year’s United Nations General Assembly should serve as a reminder of the growing importance of global institutions in an increasingly interdependent world. Even relatively small institutions may play important roles. One such institution is The International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) – an autonomous institute of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) – which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

IIEP’s mission was to build education planning and management capacity in newly independent countries. It has done so with much success, including recently in such troubled countries as Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Libya, Mali and South Sudan.

Beyond providing training and policy advice, IIEP helps build planning capacity by facilitating technical cooperation among countries in research, knowledge-exchange and peer learning. These types of global public good (GPG) services are increasingly important in helping especially poor countries benefit from global knowledge and skill assets, both by making such assets available and by building countries’ capacity to benefit from them.

Globalization is not only shaking up the economy; it also greatly intensifies the need for cooperation among countries to better manage the challenges and reap the benefits of the growing internationalization of education. This trend goes well beyond the rapidly increasing international mobility of university students and staff to include most aspects of education. For example, each release of the results of international student achievement tests causes lively national and global debates about why some countries do better than others. Increasingly, national policy-makers draw on such global knowledge, and their decisions have implications beyond national borders.

However, the IIEP also illustrates the increasing challenge that even well-performing global institutions face in mobilizing the funding required to provide high-quality GPGs. Given the rapidly growing interconnectedness among countries, success or failure in addressing this challenge (including in the education sector) is likely to become one of this century’s defining stories. And success will depend on our ability to better appreciate the needs for GPG and our willingness to fund the global institutions that provide them.

Needs: Most countries struggle even at the national level to meet a growing demand for basic public goods such as security, food safety, clean air and water, and quality education, health care and transportation. This struggle often reflects ideological differences about the role of government and has been exacerbated by the global public finance crisis. Paradoxically, the richer societies become, the more complex the public goods demanded, and the greater the challenge of financing and providing them effectively.  Similarly, the more interconnected the world becomes, the more countries need to look beyond their borders to achieve national goals, be it because they can learn from each others’ successes and failures or because many global challenges can only be addressed through global action.

Funding: The “classic” funding constraints on national public goods are even more severe for GPGs. Citizens are often poorly informed about their importance and about how little the global community actually spends on such goods. For example, on average OECD countries spend only 0.29 percent of their GDP on development assistance and only a very small part of this funds GPGs. Furthermore, measuring the impact of GPGs is complex, and support is also affected by geopolitical differences as exemplified by the United States’ recent withholding of funding from UNESCO because the agency admitted Palestine as a member.

The funding of GPG functions is in urgent need of review, including volume, “burden-sharing” among countries and – because of low core funding — the increased reliance on voluntary funding. This year, for example, UNESCO’s regular budget funds only 10% of IIEP’s budget. The rest constitutes voluntary contributions from a few member states, with Norway as the largest individual contributor. While generally less severe, this situation is common among regional and global institutions covering other sectors. IIEP’s ability to attract voluntary funds testifies to its global credibility. However, such an extreme reliance on fairly unpredictable funding, often tied to particular programs, severely constrains the Institute’s ability to maintain a solid core staff and to respond to needs not covered by ear-marked funding.

Global agencies: Public opinion of the effectiveness of global agencies is often poor. Indeed, there are problems, and some are serious! But such opinion is also often based on scant knowledge of the importance and quality of the work performed by most such agencies. And simply limiting their core funding is not an effective way of ensuring effective supply of the services they were established to provide.  The problems of funding and effectiveness are closely interconnected and member states must give much higher priority to addressing them both, including by revising outdated governance and financing structures to reflect 21st century global realities, and then holding the agencies more accountable for effective delivery.

In the education sector, many GPG services are provided by universities and a variety of NGOs and private companies.  However, while important, these complement rather than replace the need for credible, trusted and politically neutral global agencies. Over the last half century, IIEP has established itself as one crucially important such agency in the field of education. The global community must ensure that it can continue to provide its highly valued GPG services.

Raymond Wanner spent thirty years at the U.S.  Department of State on international organization affairs with a specialty on UNESCO.  His PhD was in comparative and international education from the University of Pennsylvania. Email: rwanner363@aol.com

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. His PhD was in educational planning in developing countries from the University of Lancaster, UK. Email: birger.j.fredriksen@gmail.com

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