How Can the World Pay for Schooling for All? With Contributions from Jack Rossiter and Daouda Sembene.

Note: This blog post is part of a series in which CGD experts present arguments from “Schooling for All: Feasible Strategies to Achieve Universal Education” and invite (sometimes dissenting) commentary from experts within the global education community.

Jack Rossiter: “To achieve universal primary and secondary schooling, unit costs are going to have to come down—dramatically.”

“The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set ambitious targets for high-quality, universal education by 2030. But existing efforts to “cost the SDGs” return unattainable price tags. In this chapter, we first review approaches to costing the SDGs in the education sector. Then, we estimate realistic domestic expenditure levels to 2030 and work back to policy options. Even if international financing comes in line to meet targets, governments are not going to have anything like the sums that costing exercises require. We can choose to ignore this shortfall, stick with plans, and watch costs creep up. Or we can see it as a serious budget constraint, redirect our attention toward finding ways to push costs down, and try hard to get close to universal access in the next decade.”

Read Rossiter’s full chapter.

Daouda Sembene: “Cost cutting is critical, but not a panacea.”

“Based on realistic cost estimates, developing country governments must step up efforts to boost the share of domestic revenue allocated and the contribution of the private sector to education. In parallel, the international community must provide continued support to help meet funding gaps, notably by fulfilling aid commitments in the education sector and developing innovative external financing mechanisms. In this connection, due consideration should be given to existing proposals such as taxes on carbon and financial transactions and debt relief. In my view, there is also merit in considering education reform among the potential goals of rechanneling IMF special drawing rights through multilateral development banks.

“That said, it is worth noting that a cost-cutting approach is not a panacea though it is critical. There is ample scope for exploring more effective ways to overcome the considerable spending inefficiencies that are typically prevalent in the education sector of many developing countries. While lower unit costs are key to reducing potential financing gaps, eliminating wasteful spending in this sector will be critically needed to further enhance the prospects for meeting SDG 4 sooner than later. This will require inter alia taking forceful steps to address costly behaviors by key education actors, including corrupt practices, rent seeking, and politically motivated maneuvering.”

Read Sembene’s full comment.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.