LONDON — Doubts have emerged over how much the United Kingdom is willing to pledge to the Global Partnership for Education at its funding conference this week, after the Secretary of State for International Development gave a muted response on the issue.
Speaking in an evidence session before the International Development Committee in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Penny Mordaunt — who has been in the role for three months — was pressed about the GPE replenishment conference in Dakar, Senegal, where advocates hope she could announce big commitments in funding for the multistakeholder education partnership.
The GPE is asking donors to commit $3.1 billion to fund its activities up to 2020 and has specifically requested $500m from the U.K. — historically its biggest backer — over that period. Most funding announcements are expected on Friday afternoon.
While civil society groups previously said they were optimistic the government would give generously, the mood has changed over the last 24 hours, with some telling Devex they fear the pledge will fall short — either in terms of the amount committed, or by spreading it over a longer time period.
This could have negative knock-on effects on the amounts pledged by other donors, they warned. While Canada and the European Union have already announced new commitments, France — which is co-hosting the summit with Senegal — is “the big unknown,” according to one insider who wished to remain anonymous.
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Speaking during the committee hearing, Mordaunt’s response to a question from IDC chair Stephen Twigg about the U.K. pledge did little to appease concerns. The minister dodged the question about the pledge figure, saying only, “I hope you will be pleased,” before going on to downplay the importance of funding. She hinted that a DFID “package” would also include “expertise” and other benefits beyond cash.
“There are two caveats I would place on the focus on money,” she said. First, quality schooling needs to be prioritized. “It’s no good pledging an enormous amount of money unless we are also committed … to ensuring it is quality that’s going on,” she said. Second, noneducation programs, such as deworming, also need to go alongside education programs in order to improve learning outcomes, she said.
Mordant concluded her answer by saying she was confident that the “proposal we are putting together, and also the expertise … [and] strategy which is going to be put behind it … will deliver the best results for the money the U.K. is spending.”
But Twigg, a Labour MP, pointed out that “delivery [of] quality costs money,” and that strong teaching staff “need to be properly paid [and there is a] price tag that attaches to that.”
Education advocates warned a lower pledge would be an abdication of DFID’s leadership on global education, and could also discourage other donors from giving.
“The U.K. is a strong leader on global education, but could lose pole position unless they back GPE,” Romilly Greenhill, U.K. director of the ONE Campaign, said.
The IDC has been urging DFID to spend more on education, and particularly to back the GPE — the only global multilateral funding platform dedicated to education — after concluding an inquiry into the department’s education spending last year.
The GPE, which was founded in 2002, puts an emphasis on working in close partnership with developing countries to support credible plans for their education systems, and requires those countries to increase domestic funding for education to at least 20 percent of total public expenditure in order to be eligible for support.
In 2016, DFID spent approximately 8 percent of its budget on education — less than was allocated to health, disaster relief, government, and civil society.
Read more Devex coverage on education.