European Scrutiny Committee Contents

8 EU Support for education



European Court of Auditors Special Report: "EU Development Assistance for Basic Education in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia"

Legal baseArticle 287 TFEU; —
DepartmentInternational Development
Basis of considerationEM of 8 March 2011
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see (32551) 6736/1: HC 428-xxi (2010-11), chapter 8 (23 March 2011); (32542) 6957/11: HC 428-xx (2010-11), chapter 4 (16 March 2011) and (32105)15240/10: HC 428-viii (2010-11), chapter 11 (17 November 2010)
To be discussed in CouncilTo be determined
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


8.1 The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by 189 nations and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000 are:

  • Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
  • Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
  • Goal 5: Improve maternal health
  • Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

They are due to be achieved by 2015. The eight MDGs are broken down into 21 quantifiable targets that are measured by 60 indicators; in the case of Goal 2, thus:
Target 3: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling 6. Net enrolment ratio in primary education

7. Proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach grade 5b

8. Literacy rate of 15-24 year-olds

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) carries out audits, through which it assesses the collection and spending of EU funds. It examines whether financial operations have been properly recorded and disclosed, legally and regularly executed. It also, via its Special Reports, carries out audits designed to assess how well EU funds have been managed so as to ensure economy, efficiency and effectiveness.[34]

ECA Special Report No 12/2010: EU Development Assistance for Basic Education in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia

8.2 This Court of Auditors Special Report looks at the European Commission's management of programmes in the area of basic education and offers a set of recommendations that address two main conclusions, that:   

—  Commission programmes achieved some of the expected improvements in basic education in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, but less than intended;

—  the Commission's programming and implementation of programmes were of inconsistent quality.

8.3 The Report explains how EU development assistance in the area of basic education is funded from the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) and the European Development Fund (EDF)), using various channels including General Budget Support, pooled funding and projects, and both state and also non-state actors/civil society organisations (both advocates and service providers). The Commission also contributes to the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative[35] from the EDF and DCI.

8.4 The Report concludes that 45% of the results indicators contained in the financing agreements for education programmes (both sector budget support and pooled funding) fully achieved their targets, whilst a further 30% were making progress. The Report also found that most audited projects delivered most of the activities and results foreseen. However, their impact was found to be limited due to their smaller scale compared with the sector programmes.

8.5 The ECA found that the Commission's analysis of the education sectors in preparation of its 2007-2013 Country Strategy Papers was generally comprehensive. The ECA also found that there was evidence of progress against the MDGs. In particular, there was evidence of increased enrolment rates as well as increases in gender parity in most countries. However, the ECA judged that there was insufficient progress in increasing quality, with few of the intended improvements being achieved.

8.6 The Report further found that, while Commission interventions contributed to enabling the beneficiary countries to achieve some of the intended improvements, significant inequalities persisted within particular regions and social groups. The Report also noted a lack of indicators measuring quality and learning outcomes to assess programmes was also criticised, while at the same time acknowledging that measurement of learning outcomes is not widespread and that the Commission, along with other donors, has to rely on proxy indicators based on data from often unreliable and untimely national Education Management Information Systems.

8.7 The Report also found that using General Budget Support, in some countries, reduced the focus on achieving concrete targets and indicators and resulted in less sector dialogue.

8.8 EU delegations in country were found to engage actively in donor and partner country coordination.

The Government's view

8.9 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 14 March 2011, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (Mr Stephen O'Brien) describes the report as "a constructive contribution to the ongoing processes of improving the effectiveness and results of EU support to basic education in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia."

8.10 He agrees with the finding that there is evidence of real progress in enrolments and gender parity in most countries supported, but insufficient progress in increasing the quality of education or measuring learning outcomes. He notes that the Commission is taking action on this, with its recent Staff Working Paper "More and Better Education in Developing Countries", which provides guidance for policy dialogue on improving quality to all its country delegations, and working with Member States to address data issues.

8.11 On the question of the Commission and other donors having to rely on proxy indicators based on potentially unreliable data from developing countries' national Education Management Information Systems in measuring learning outcomes, the Minister says that his officials are working on ways of improving national Education Management Information Systems, and with the World Bank on benchmarking improving education systems. He says that this work will be shared with the international community and that he will continue his efforts to strengthen government information systems through the EU Education Experts Group of donors, and at country level, through local education donor groups.

8.12 The Minister also agrees that the use of General Budget Support to support education has not always delivered concrete results for education, saying that he will encourage the increased use of Sector Budget Support in countries where education is a focal sector; also encourage greater availability of professional education advice for General Budget Support programmes; and support continued collaboration between Member States on policy dialogue at country level.

8.13 More generally, the Minister says:

"The UK is continuing to press for a much clearer focus on results and value for money across all the EU's development programmes and we will argue strongly for this in negotiations over the next long term EU budget (2014-2020)."

8.14 Finally, the Minister says that the Report will be discussed in Council in the coming weeks, and that he expects Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions in May or June 2011.


8.15 The findings are essentially positive but with room for improvement and highlight the present lack of hard evidence on outcomes and, thus, effectiveness and value for money.

8.16 It is encouraging that the Commission and Member States are clearly alive to and wrestling with the difficulties and complexities involved. Witness, for example, the recent Commission Green Paper: The future of EU Budget Support to Third Countries (15240/10), which gathered views from Member States and a wide range of other stakeholders and will lead on to a Communication in the Spring, setting out the main parameters for the Commission's future budget support;[36] and (among those stakeholders) the Court of Auditors Special Report No 11/2010, which examined the Commission's management of General Budget Support through the EDF in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and through the DCI in Latin American and Asian countries.[37]

8.17 This further Report is thus part of a wider picture that is of growing importance, as 2015 draws nearer, with the backdrop of last September's MDG Review Summit (the outcome of which was debated in European Committee B)[38] and the prospect of a number of forthcoming MDG-related meetings (e.g., the LDC-IV conference in May, which we considered at our last meeting).[39]

8.18 Accordingly, as well as clearing this European Court of Auditors Special Report from scrutiny, we are also drawing it to the attention of the International Development Committee.

34   See for full details of the ECA's work. Back

35   In 2002, the World Bank together with development partners launched the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative (FTI) to help low-income countries meet MDG of universal primary education by 2015. All low-income countries which demonstrate serious commitment to achieve universal primary completion can join FTI. See for full information. Back

36   See headnote: (32105)15240/10: HC 428-viii (2010-11), chapter 11 (17 November 2010). Back

37   See headnote: (32542) 6957/11: HC 428-xx (2010-11), chapter 4 (16 March 2011). Back

38   See Gen Co Deb 18 October 2010, cols 3-20:  Back

39   See headnote: (32551) 6736/10. HC 428-xxi (2010-11), chapter 8 (23 March 2011). Back

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Prepared 7 April 2011