There has been tremendous progress across the world since 2000 toward Education for All (EFA) and the six education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); however, challenges still remain according to the findings of the 2015 EFA Global Monitoring Report, produced by UNESCO.

In its 2014-2020 programming, the EU is supporting Education in 40 partner countries, at least half of which in fragility contexts. EU funding for education in developing countries is expected to total €4.7 billion.

As the world's larger donor, the EU and its Member States play collectively a critical role in achieving the Millennium Development education goals and in contributing to a Post 2015 Framework.

The EU supports education in development cooperation at country, regional and global levels:

At country level, the EU promotes a joint response strategy with Member States based on partners' own development strategies. Equity is bolstered at the level of countries, institutions and people in terms of equal access and participation in education including people from marginalised and vulnerable groups.

At regional level, the EU finances higher education programmes as Erasmus+. One key aim of higher education is to take able students to the stage where they can contribute to the national development of their country; this level of education is crucial for building a strong human capital base – training professionals such as teachers, doctors and engineers.

At global level, the EU is supporting the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the only existing global partnership in the sector. One of the key priorities of the partnership is education in fragile and conflict-affected states, by contributing to building capacity and to capitalising on the potential role of education in reducing conflict and building stability.

The EU prioritises a whole sector approach, from early childhood to higher education, including non-formal education and technical and vocational training, shifting the focus from access to quality and equity issues in education:

Access to education: half of the 57 million children of primary-school age who do not go to school in the world - a total of 28.5 million children - live in conflict-affected countries, 55% girls. In Somalia, for example, in response to gender imbalance in the education system, a EU-funded education programme has accelerated female participation to primary, secondary and middle level colleges. Other examples include the EU response to the Syrian crisis and the EU Children of Peace Initiative.

Quality of education: Despite being in school, a large majority of learners do not acquire even minimal levels of learning and come out of school unprepared to integrate with the world of work. In Papua New Guinea, for example, the EU is improving the quality of pre-service female teachers from remote areas through a series of scholarships and training sessions.

Equity in education: the EU is funding projects aiming at getting girls and children from all other vulnerable groups into school and ensuring that they stay and learn.


The EU fosters coordination with its Member States in the area of development cooperation and ensures its external representation in this field.

The EU, through DEVCO, is contributing to

  • reduce poverty in the world
  • ensure sustainable development and
  • promote democracy, peace and security.

It also promotes a constant dialogue with partner countries and full participation of local stakeholders including civil society, local institutions, private sector and other donors.

Biannual meetings with Education and Development Experts from EU member states are organised. The last meeting was held on October 24th 2013.

The EU Delegations play a key role in presenting, explaining and implementing EU’s foreign policies. They analyse and report on the policies and developments of their host countries, maintain political dialogue, administer development aid among others. They also play a monitoring role in ensuring that vulnerable and marginalised groups, including girls and persons with disabilities, are given equal access and participation in EU development programmes.

Education and training are critical to development and to the reduction of inter-generational cycles of poverty. They contribute to better health, higher incomes and increased participation in community life. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) goals set an ambitious agenda in the field of education. The MDGs aim to give all boys and girls a full primary education by 2015, and to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 and for all levels of education by 2015. The six EFA goals are more comprehensive, addressing access, equity, quality and education throughout the life cycle.

In line with these international commitments, the EU promotes access to quality basic education for all children, young people and adults. The achievement of the MDGs of universal primary education and gender equality in education ranks highly among the priorities of the EU’s development cooperation. Increased effort is being put into tackling quality issues and addressing inequalities. Further activities focus on higher education (the future Erasmus+ programme) and vocational training. The Staff Working Document "More and Better Education in Developing Countries" of 2010, which updates the 2002 Commission Communication, presents a framework for the objectives, priorities and approach that the European Commission is pursuing in the field of education and training in order to help reduce poverty.

The European Consensus on Development of 2005 and the "Agenda for Change" of 2011 reaffirm the above emphasis.  Other major policy documents relating to education are the EU Agenda for Action on the MDGs, which outlines priority areas for action, and the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership on the MDGs, which sets out priority actions to accelerate the achievement of the education MDGs in Africa.

Committed to advancing education at all levels

The above-mentioned Staff Working Document "More and Better Education in Developing Countries"  sets out the policy and priorities of the EU’s development cooperation in support of education. In particular, the EU promotes:

  • A comprehensive approach to the education sector, from early childhood education to tertiary education
  • A focus on basic education as the foundation for further learning and skills development
  • Ensuring equity of access to education and gender equality, with special attention to the most marginalised and hardest-to-reach children
  • Improving quality of education and developing ways to measure and monitor improvements
  • Strengthening links between education and the world of work, taking into account demographic changes
  • Making appropriate links with other sectors, such as food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, and percussion sector reform.

The strategy also emphasises:

  • Political and strategic dialogue with partner countries and integration of education policies into national development and poverty reduction strategies
  • Budgetary support, either at national budget or sector level in line with the Accra Agenda for Action
  • Participation by all education actors and civil society in the widest sense, including the private sector
  • Support for institutional development and capacity-building
  • Monitoring of activities via indicators.

Adapting to fragile situations

Recognising the major MDG challenges in countries affected by crisis, the Commission devotes particular attention to improving its engagement in the education sector in fragile situations. The Commission’s Communication ‘Towards an EU response to situations of fragility' reflects this specific emphasis.

The Commission’s approach in this context combines a number of complementary strategies: direct support to critical research, policy dialogue at country level with national stakeholders and development partners, and active participation in key working groups on fragility under the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies.

Concerted action

Dialogue is also central to the interaction among donors and development partners. At EU level, there are regular coordination meetings between the European Commission and representatives of EU member states in partner countries.

At European level, the Commission hosts regular meetings of the education experts of the EU member states. These meetings enable the participants to share information on policy and practice and to work towards greater coherence and complementarity amongst member states and their work in the field of education. They are usually opened to experts from other European countries (in particular Norway and Switzerland) and to invited guests who provide the meetings with important research results or input from practice.

The Comission also coordinates with other donors and partners, notably in the context of international meetings such as those for the Association for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the International Task Force on Teachers for EFA, and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA).

Building up momentum

Encouraging progress has notably been made in universal primary education. Net enrolment worldwide has increased to 86%.

However, impressive as it is, this initial result can only be a starting point for improvements in all areas of education and training. Regarding basic education, for example, the number of out-of-school children remains high at 75 million, and 55% (41 million) of these children are girls. Global level monitoring data are available in the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report. They confirm that much remains to be done.

The European Commission organised an EU High-Level Conference on Education and Development on May 23, 2013, in Brussels. The conference highlighted the challenges of the unfinished global education agenda and contributed to the debate on the role of education post-2015.


Selected results achieved with EU support through projects and programmes completed between mid-2014 and mid-2015

Vocational Education

  • The Triennale on promoting critical knowledge, skills and qualifications for sustainable development in Africa (How to design and implement an effective response by education and training system) was attended by 1 200 key policy makers from 35 African countries. Policy dialogue has been initiated on technical and vocational skills for economic growth and scientific and technological skills for meeting globalization challenges.
  • In 24 African countries, national Technical Vocational Skills Development measures have been formulated and implemented. Countries have collected information on the employment /training status of young people and intervention measures have been taken.

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