Agenda 2063: The Resource Pressure in Financing Education in Africa

ADEA’s Mission in Angola (July 2015) | Copyright: ADEA

When a call was made by the international community to have education provided as a human right back in 1948, it was not immediately conceivable how the ambitious mission would have been actualized. The world had just come out of war and obviously countries had spent fortunes defending their territories. One can only imagine how broke everyone was. One would imagine it was going to take a while to accomplish the mission.

Fast forward, couple of decades later, most countries have recorded illustrious achievements on this front. They have built meticulous education systems for their citizens, young and old, to facilitate the provision of early and lifelong learning. 

Developing countries have equally made significant strides in advancing education. From 2000 to 2011, the enrolment rate grew from 83% to 90%, and the number of out-of-school children dropped by almost half from 102 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2011, according to a 2013 United Nation Fact Sheet on the Millennium Development Goal n. 2: “Achieve universal primary education”. They have shown plausible drive in providing enabling environment for school-aged children to access schools with limited hitches. The boldest decision taken in most developing countries being the elimination of school fees and levies previously borne by households especially for primary level of education.

Having abolished school fees and related levies, it was not lost on governments that the cost previously covered by such fees would be borne by someone. Ministries of Finance with support from strategic development partners stretched themselves to accommodate the provisions for Universal Primary Education (UPE). The burden of households was transferred to governments.

In Africa alone, the effort to education measured by expenditure to education relative to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated to have increased from an average of 4% in 2000 to 4.8% in 2014 according to education finance data obtained from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

With the first cohort of UPE coming to the end of its government support, lack of transition to secondary was looming large. Governments had to react to avert the prospective crisis. To-date, 12 of the Sub Saharan African countries offer free secondary education. Out of the 12, Kenya has made a commitment to free and compulsory secondary education. The Government of Kenya introduced Free Day Secondary Education program in 2008 to cushion students who had benefited from Free Primary Education from dropping out of school.

Asking such students to bear the cost of secondary education was going to be a burden. Significant number came from poor households. They had failed to pay the smaller fees in primary and certainly they were not going to afford the relatively higher secondary costs. This move by Kenya and other developing countries in Africa made secondary education so accessible even though in most cases households are still expected to chip in to the cost of education to cater for items like uniform, transport as well as other personal costs.

After 16 years of primary and secondary education for most countries, there is a renewed education financing headache. How does Africa approach financing of tertiary and higher education? What is in it for the continent? What are the social benefits of this kind of investment? Is there any space left in the fiscal frameworks of African countries to support the growth?

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) period was coming to an end and the international community was crafting its next development agenda, Africa was running a parallel. African states had taken note of their unique context and challenges during the implementation of the MDGs. They were prepared to use such lessons as a basis to develop an agenda for Africa’s renaissance. And so in 2013, Africa’s Agenda 2063 was born. The Agenda spells out what Africa must do in 50 years to transform its social and economic status and seek better partnership terms among its sister continents.

With the Agenda, we are looking at “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.” The agenda is articulate on a raft of issues: spanning economic growth; security and governance; social cohesion and integration of cultures; and most important ending dependence. Now, ending dependence is the new obligation that is coming into play. I have no idea how this is going to be done but I think Africa has come of age to take the bull by its horns.

In March 2017 the continent’s education experts came together in a meeting organised by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA)  themed: Revitalizing education towards 2030 Global Agenda and Africa’s Agenda 2063. Reports from the 2017 ADEA Triennale strongly indicate that the financial concerns I have raised above were echoed in the meeting. One of the questions posed for discussion was ‘how’ Africa should actualize some of the provisions in its Agenda 2063. At a time when resources have been stretched by provision of basic education, how is Africa prepared to manage the additional pressure to sustain education at lower levels while investing in tertiary and higher education?

To be an influential global player and partner, Africa’s Agenda 2063 recognizes that Africa must be prepared to finance her development: human capital development; and research and innovation. During the March 2017 meeting, ADEA hinted at a proposal to establish an Africa Education Fund (AEF) which would support strategic education investment across the continent. This is clearly one of the responses to the call made by heads of state to promote domestic resource mobilization for domestic development.

In as much as ADEA is in the process of undertaking a feasibility study on the setting up of the African Education Fund, the fact is Africa needs the Education Fund. Ministries of Finance in the continent have exceedingly stretched their means and their countries can hardly invest in the incubation of new ideas. There is need to have some injection of resources that will spur growth and that have domestic roots. Can Africa increase its global influence if it cannot ensure its students and future generations to have skills? In the era of knowledge economy, where research is revealing unto us new possibilities with every rising sun, Africa cannot afford to slumber. The proposed Education Fund is one of Africa’s way out to investing in research, science and technology.

I have been lucky to witness some of the brilliant possibilities that the African continent continues to miss out because of lack of investment in strategic areas of research. Some countries cannot take ideas out of their academic laboratories because there is limited funding for them. Some of the ideas have the potential of transforming the continent if they get appropriate financing.  Some of these ideas are potential candidates for support by the proposed fund. Africa must rise to the occasion to support this noble idea.

What are your thoughts on the domestic resource mobilization? How can Africa cater for the increased demand for post-basic education?