What does the UK Aid Strategy mean for education and development?

Simon McGrath, Professor of International Education and Development at the University of Nottingham, examines the government’s new aid strategy and its impact for a UK approach to education and development. The article was published by The Education and Development Forum.

In November 2015, the UK government launched its new aid strategy entitled UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest. Education, surprisingly, does not feature heavily. McGrath criticises the stress on “the national interest” throughout the document that irked many; Owen Barder at the Center for Global Development noted that “the phrase ‘national interest’ is mentioned twelve times, compared to four mentions of the new ‘global goals’”. One particular concern is that much of the money allocated under the new strategy will be managed by the National Security Council, which, as McGrath points out, is likely to be a worry for many in the UK international education community.

But he also sees the overall shift of funding towards the MENA region and Syria in particular as an opportunity for a UK dialogue about education in that region. He also commends the emphasis on resilience, an area that has not been a major DFID educational priority and that “has become an increasingly important element of academic debates about education for sustainable development”. Since those working with small island developing states (SIDS) have taken a recent lead on education for resilience initiatives, McGrath believes “a dialogue with the Commonwealth may be particularly useful here”. This will surely become a reality as Baroness Patricia Scotland, the new Commonwealth Secretary General due to take office in April, has included developing “frameworks that decrease the vulnerability and increase the resilience of Small States” in her vision for the Commonwealth.

The strategy most concretely engages with education in the context of poverty alleviation, which links back to a 2015 manifesto pledge to support 11 million more learners into and through school. There is also some emphasis on the continued commitment to girls’ education, both issues which DFID has focused on closely in recent years. While the overall strategy is likely to effectively broaden the DFID education agenda, it remains to be seen whether the body will rise to the challenge of ensuring education will not be side-lined or marginalised by the heavily emphasised security dimension.