CFR’s Center for Universal Education Proposes Blueprint for Global Education Fund

January 14, 2009 2:17 pm (EST)

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With 300 million children out of school globally, including seventy-two million primary school-age children, a new Center for Universal Education (CUE) Working Paper urges the United States to take the lead in launching a major global education initiative. "A U.S. commitment to quality education for all could be the primary means to win the hearts and minds of the global community," said CUE director and paper author Gene B. Sperling.

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Over the last decade there has been a steady increase in global awareness of the role that a free, quality basic education--especially for girls--can play in preventing disease, spurring economic growth, and providing alternatives to violence. In 2000, 180 nations signed the Education for All goals and the UN Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015, committing the world to ensuring that children would not be denied the right to a quality basic education. This global compact on education meant that no developing country with a comprehensive strategy to provide education to all its children would fail on account of a lack of financial support from donor countries. Yet, despite this growing attention, universal education has not achieved the same global commitment as debt relief, HIV/AIDS, and malaria. Moreover, there remains an estimated external financing gap of $10 billion annually, according to the paper, A Global Education Fund: Toward a True Global Compact on Universal Education.

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The paper analyzes the existing global aid architecture for education, the Education Fast Track Initiative (FTI), established in 2002 as a means of "fast-tracking" those countries with the greatest promise toward achieving universal education in the near term. Drawing on lessons learned from the FTI and other global development initiatives, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Sperling proposes a Global Education Fund to strengthen the architecture for education.

The fund’s blueprint would be based on the following goals:

A new single process would seek to coordinate between developing and donor countries, as well as contributors from the private sector, foundations, and multilateral institutions. "A single unified process can incorporate a ‘Progressive Framework,’ that provides the appropriate degree of assistance... to countries based on their individual development stage. It includes steps to secure international endorsement and funding at both an interim-status stage for countries that are fragile or postconflict, as well as for those that have been fully endorsed by FTI."

"An expanded global process should be managed by an independent entity that can leverage the strengths of the multiple partners of the global initiative without being dominated by a single organization. Broad organizational ownership means greater roles and responsibilities for the existing core partners--UNICEF and UNESCO--while also bringing additional NGOs, multilaterals, foundations, and the private sector around the table."

"A new global education fund must clearly include a stronger [financial] pooling mechanism... including an emphasis on regular replenishment, longer funding cycles, enhanced multilateralism, peer review, and broad ownership for the proposed plan among all stakeholders in the country. Yet, it must also continue to include aspects of the current ‘virtual fund,’ which allow donor nations to work in a coordinated manner regardless of whether they choose to contribute bilaterally or through a pooled fund that would be managed by the new secretariat."

"A new global education initiative must employ mechanisms that will establish both a clearer understanding of the true financing needs to achieve universal education and strategies for dramatically and systematically increasing the level and duration of funding. ...Regardless of the financing modality, a global education fund must strategically address how to encourage donors to make (and fulfill) long-term commitments to supporting education to help deal with the recurrent costs of expanding access and improving quality of education."

"Donor nations must build the trust that they will fulfill their long-term funding promises to give poor nations the confidence to embark on long-term expansions of access and quality. Furthermore, donor nations committing vastly larger funds will need greater accountability from recipients in demonstrating that such funds are properly deployed and are aimed at both increasing universal education and producing learning outcomes."

"A new name to describe the strengthened global architecture on education is not inconsequential. If Global Education Fund is not acceptable, there should be an alternative name that clearly communicates its mission to the world, such as the Global Compact for Education. However, even with a better name, a newly reformed and rebranded initiative must garner the support of a critical mass of heads of state, particularly those in the G8, in coordination with support from heads of state from low-income countries."

"While there have been annual increases in donor contributions ranging from U.S. $1-$3 billion a year, the financing gap for providing eight years of quality basic education--including the interventions necessary to reach the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children--is likely at least U.S. $10 billion annually," writes Sperling. "This financing gap represents a long way to go, but it is a modest sum for the global community to provide when considering the long-term benefits to economic growth, global health, women’s empowerment, and peace."

This publication is a product of CFR’s Center for Universal Education and was made possible by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

For full text of the report, visit


Gene Sperling is senior fellow for economic policy and director of the Center for Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is former national economic adviser and coauthor of the CFR report What Works in Girls’ Education. His current work examines ways to extend education to displaced children and those living in emergency situations. He is also author of The Pro-Growth Progressive (Simon & Shuster, 2005).

The Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.

The Center for Universal Education, founded in 2002 by Gene Sperling, is the first Center at a major think tank focusing exclusively on the provision of quality, universal basic education among the world’s poorest children.


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