Conference for African Ministers of Finance and Education: Sustaining education gains amidst the global economic crisis

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From: 15/07/2009
To: 17/07/2009
Location: Tunis, Tunisia
Organiser: Jointly Organized by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank (WB), with the support of the donor partners of the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (EFA FTI)
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This conference will engage African ministers of finance and of education in a dialogue, among themselves and with their external partners, on options to sustain—in the current context of a global economic slowdown—Africa’s achievements in education and economic development over the past decade.  Ministers from about 30 countries from Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will be invited, among them all those that have received or are expecting to receive support from the Fast Track Initiative’s Catalytic Fund, and all the six most populous African countries, i.e., Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, DRC, South Africa and Sudan.  The invitees will also include the countries’ development partners, the African Union and other key regional governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Rationale and Objectives

Most African countries and their external partners can take pride today in the unmistakable progress towards the Education for All (EFA) goals for 2015 that were agreed at the Dakar 2000 World Education Forum.  The increase in access to primary education has been particularly remarkable.  The increase stems largely from a combination of courageous education reforms, substantially increased public financing of education (as reflected by a rise in the share of GDP allocated to education)—which was made possible by a resumption of economic growth and increased political priority for education—and greater flows of external aid for education. 

Yet, the momentum of educational and economic progress may be jeopardized by the current worldwide economic downturn.  Tightening domestic budgets and external aid could make it more difficult to sustain policy reform and to facilitate strategic investments in the education sector.  The impact may well reverse the hard won gains of the last ten years and frustrate attainment of the EFA goals and those of the African Union’s Second Decade for Education in Africa.  More worrisome is that these setbacks could undermine the nascent effort underway in many African countries to align the expansion of secondary and tertiary education more closely with the needs of the economy and to equip the workforce with the skills, particularly in science, technology and innovation, to help businesses compete successfully in the global economy and sustain overall economic growth in the coming years.

Today, SSA countries face a very different set of economic and education challenges than those in the period following the 2000 World Education Forum.  The dramatically changed circumstances created by the global economic slowdown are therefore the main rationale for the conference.  The meeting will bring together senior policy makers from both ministries of finance and of education and representatives of development agencies to explore the nature of the new challenges and their implications for policies to:

  • Sustain the momentum towards the 2015 EFA goals as the overarching priority in the coming years and minimize the risk of repeating the education decline experienced by SSA countries during the economic downturns of the 1980s and 1990s; and
  • Increase urgent attention to the development of post-primary education to supply the middle and higher-level technical and managerial skills that African countries will need to sustain and accelerate the economic growth achieved over the last decade.

On this background, the overarching objective of the conference is to develop a greater understanding of why ministers of finance and of education must exercise joint political leadership to foster a dynamic alignment between the education sector and national goals for social and economic progress and how they can do it.  To this end, the conference will focus on:

  • The mutual dependency between education and economic growth, and the institutional capacity required in both education and finance ministries to handle this dependency, build on a shared understanding that:
    • In today’s increasingly knowledge-based global economy, the supply and quality of workforce skills that the education sector is able to provide plays a key role in determining countries’ ability to compete and achieve sustained economic growth at a level sufficiently high to reduce poverty; and
    • In turn, sustained economic growth is indispensable to make achieving the 2015 EFA goals financially and socially sustainable, not least because growth (a) generates the funding needed to maintain EFA once attained and meet the growing demand for post-primary education resulting from UPE, and (b) creates the jobs demanded by the graduates;
  • The need for visionary political leadership and close cooperation between the ministries of finance and of education in ensuring that education policies and programs are aligned with overall national development strategies.  This cooperation is essential to achieve a dynamic balance between individuals’ educational aspirations and the nation’s wider objectives for social, political and economic development.
  • The nature of education policies needed during the latter half of the 2000-2015 period to maintain the momentum towards UPE, to galvanize progress toward the other EFA goals and in post-primary education, and to align the education and training system more closely to national goals for economic growth and competitiveness;
  • The scope for greater cooperation in the education sector among African countries.  As underlined in African Union’s Second Decade for Education in Africa, more needs to be done to harness the potential benefits from such cooperation; and
  • The priorities for education finance and external aid for education.  Particularly important are government policies to foster holistic, efficient and sustainable development of education.  Donors’ policies with regard to external aid can also make a difference, for example, through countercyclical support to counteract the potential squeeze on domestic public education funding during the current economic crisis.

Expected outcome

The Conference is expected to increase understanding  and consensus among key stakeholders on:

  • The rationale for and capacities needed by ministries of finance and of education to exercise stronger joint political leadership for aligning strategies for educational development with national agendas for economic growth, including through greater pan-African cooperation;
  • The need for concerted actions to prevent the current economic downturn from repeating the education decline experienced by African countries in the 1980s and 1990s; and
  • The critical role of strategic domestic policies, buttressed by a more strategic use of external aid, to help ensure holistic and sustainable development of the education sector amidst the challenges of the current economic downturn.  As a result of the discussion, it is expected that the participating Ministers would articulate an agenda of practical actions for collaboration to help ensure continued educational and economic progress in SSA in the coming years.