Julia Gillard: Let's broaden donor community, involve emerging nations on education spending

Julia Gillard, chair of the board of directors of the Global Partnership for Education and former Australian prime minister. Photo by: The Open University / CC BY-NC-ND

The proposed post-2015 sustainable development goal on education — to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning — has been hailed by education advocates across the globe as a crucial step forward for poor children.

But now that the dust has settled after the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Global Partnership for Education Chair Julia Gillard thinks it’s time to talk about implementation — and how to pay for it.

To come up with the annual $39 billion UNESCO estimates is needed to cover the global education financing gap, the challenge is how to mobilize external funds from traditional and nontraditional donors alike, the former Australian prime minister told Devex in an exclusive interview in Addis.

“Of course we always want to see traditional donors doing more for education, that's what we advocate for, but we've also got to look at ways of broadening the donor community, including involving emerging nations as donors,” she said, mentioning philanthropy as an additional potential source of funds to galvanize education spending in the post-2015 era.

Below are more highlights from our conversation on the sidelines of the #FFD3 conference in Addis:

Do you feel everyone is now rowing in the same direction on education?

Yes I do. I think the education community has really come together and it's really clear what we are all pushing for now. It's great to see that increasing alignment. And I think the arguments about education are resonating more loudly with the global community generally. One of the things I'm powerfully struck by is how clear the recognition is to achieve any and all of the sustainable development goals requiring education as an enabler.

UNESCO recently estimated a $39 billion need to ensure that all children receive a quality education. How are you and your partners aiming to mobilize funding of that magnitude? Is there a concrete roadmap to really make a push for education as we transition to the SDGs?

Yes. It's an eye-watering figure, $39 billion annually. And that's in external financing and assuming that developing countries are continuing on their journeys to add to their own investments in education. That's the gap we're faced with. What’s the plan? Well, I think the financing commission [launched July 7 at the Education For Development Summit in Oslo, Norway] can really help chart not only better evidence about the intellectual case for education ... but also some how-to and new insights for mobilizing external financing — and not just from traditional donors.

Of course we always want to see traditional donors doing more for education, that’s what we advocate for, but we've also got to look at ways of broadening the donor community, including involving emerging nations as donors. We've got to look at how better to enable private philanthropy at scale to invest in education and see what can be done to leverage and mobilize private sector resources. So I think that the financing commission is a big new enabler for us to have that discussion with, and then we can really galvanize ourselves around new commitments to education in 2016.

There’s also the humanitarian side, of course, where so much of what explains children being out of school is as a result of conflict and fragility; 50 percent of what we do is in conflict affected and fragile states. And so I think at the Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, next year, the work that is being done now on better meeting the needs of children in emergency situations to get an education, will be before the global community once, who will be tasked with looking for new resources.

How can the education sector as a whole can do a better job of working with the private sector and tapping into innovative forms of partnership and financing?

We are not going to achieve universality of quality education for every boy and every girl without free public provision that enables kids to go to school, particularly the poorest and hardest to reach children. There's a lively debate about private schooling and what the right regulatory and other structures are. I think the global education community will continue to work through that debate. But when I talk about the private sector, I'm more thinking about things that are commonly purchased for education: What can be done to enable those things to be purchased at scale and cheaper per unit that enable an individual country's education dollar to go further as it sets about implementing its education sector plan. And clearly what we do is work on the development of that planning and then in lowest income countries fund a section of the plan. I think that there is much prospective ground there.

In your conversations with development implementers, what are some of the trends emerging on education? Is there any sort of seismic shift you'd expect to see in terms of education delivery, for example, in a post-2015 context, or do you think that the onus will remain with the nation state and the government authorities?

Our perspective is always going to be a country-led development model. And when you're talking about something as pivotal to a country's future as educating its children, then it’s always going to be country-led development. I think in education the search for one silver bullet is a search in vain. There's not going to be one technology solution for the whole planet, there's not going to be one curriculum solution for the whole planet, there's not going to be one way of ensuring that girls are educated. But there's got to be the evidence, coordination, the generation of resources, sharing of best practices, that enable us to find the way through so that countries have got all of that information available to them and the resourcing necessary. A really exciting development in the GPE is that we bring our developing country partners and their constituency groupings together before in the run up to board meetings. That better enables engagement in the board agenda, but the very exciting part of it is that as countries come together, what they want to do is exchange ideas and practices and learn from each other. This is a very virtuous, empowering conversation and exchange, and I think we'll see more of that in forming the education community.

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About the author

  • Richard Jones

    In his role as Editorial Director Richard oversees content for digital series, reports and events, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously partnerships editor and an associate editor at Devex, Richard brings to bear 15 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. Based in Barcelona, his development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.