The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reaffirms education as a fundamental human right and a public good, and reflects education’s role in achieving other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through learning, skills and awareness.

The EU commitment to education is embodied in the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) whose objective is to 'ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all' by 2030.

SDG4 represents an ambitious agenda. While access to education has been dramatically extended and gender parity improved in many countries, especially at primary level, substantial gaps remain, particularly at pre-primary, secondary and tertiary levels.



For the school year ending in 2017 an estimated 262 million children and youth aged 6 to 17 were out of school (source: UNESCO). A large number of them live in countries affected by fragility or conflict. In terms of access to education, while progress has been made towards gender equality at a global level, significant disparities persist at a regional level (source: UNESCO). Girls in fragile or conflict-affected areas are also more likely to be out of school (source: UNESCO EFA GMR - June 2015). Data is limited, but studies confirm that persons with disabilities in developing countries are nearly always worse off than those without; they are less likely to ever attend or to complete primary or secondary school, or to acquire foundational skills (source: UNESCO).

It is estimated that more than 617 million (6 out of 10) children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age do not achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics (source: UNESCO Fact Sheet. Even where children are in school, many are not acquiring an appropriate level of knowledge and skills.


EU support to Education

The EU is supporting Education in approximately 100 countries through a number of funding instruments and through funding and other support to global education partnerships.

This support responds to specific national or regional contexts, and is aligned to government-led sector policy priorities and their implementation. The EU prioritises the strengthening of education systems as the only way to improve educational outcomes over time. The EU works at country, regional and global levels in partnership and coordination with other organisations, including EU member states, bilateral and multilateral agencies, civil society and the private sector. At country level, this includes active participation in education sector coordination groups and forums for policy dialogue.

In many countries, conflict or other crises, often protracted over many years, have led to deterioration and even collapse of the education system. In such cases, humanitarian agencies may focus on the immediate needs of service delivery where they can. However, even in these contexts the support provided by the EU will be attentive to both the maintenance and strengthening of the system and the opportunity to 'build back better' to increase future resilience. In line with its policy commitments the EU has been increasing its support to fragile countries both by increasing the share of humanitarian assistance allocated to education to 10% by 2019, as well as by allocating a larger proportion of bilateral development assistance to fragile and crisis-affected countries.

During the 2014-2020 programming period, around 60 programmes either included education as a focal sector in their Multiannual Indicative Programmes or had cooperation programmes with an education component. Bilateral support to education at country level can be provided by several programmes or projects, implemented through a mix of complementary modalities.

At regional level, the EU finances higher education programmes such as Erasmus+. The programme provides grants in the fields of education, training, youth and sport to individuals and organisations, encouraging mobility, collaboration and partnerships

EU Trust Funds have also been set up to respond to specific regional situations; these include the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa or the EU regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis. These Trust Funds, which are funded by the EU, its member States, and other donors, work directly with governments, local authorities and civil society organisations in partner countries to support vulnerable population groups.

The European Commission is an active contributor to regional and global policy dialogue and financing for education initiatives and partnerships such as Global Partnership for Education (GPE) or Education Cannot Wait.

The EU and its Member States are the biggest contributor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The EU committed an overall funding of EUR 475 million for the period 2014-2020. The GPE supports more than 65 countries with the greatest education needs.

The EU is also an active supporter (EUR 16 million) of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a global initiative to transform the delivery of education in emergencies and protracted crises. ECW has raised over EUR 300 million and supported up to 1 million children and youth, among the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach, in 19 crisis affected countries, since its establishment in 2016.



In 2017 the EU adopted the European Consensus on Development providing a framework for action aligned to the 2030 agenda and based on the five priority areas: people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnership. The Consensus acknowledges the key role of education for these priorities and represents an important commitment to increasing access to and the quality of education services. It reinforces the established approach to country-led policies and reforms, strengthening local capacities and maintaining an open and robust policy dialogue, recognising the importance of working through national systems in order to have a sustainable impact.


Specific education development policies

Specific education policies complete the framework for country support in education. They promote:

  • A comprehensive approach to the sector, from early childhood to tertiary education, acknowledging the necessity of a ‘balanced education sector’, notably for national growth. Reaffirming the importance of supporting all education sub sectors, the Consensus draws attention to the importance of the early years, early childhood education and primary as the foundation for all further learning and skills development.
  • Strengthening systems and capacities to provide quality education for all and to strengthen the links between education and the world of work.
  • A focus on more inclusive and equitable access to basic education with attention to gender issues, children with disabilities and learning difficulties, ethnic and linguistic minority children, and those living in remote or unsafe areas. The Consensus reiterates the EU commitment to a rights-based approach, to leave no one behind, and to give special attention to those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalised.
  • A stronger focus on learning. Teachers are recognised as central to improving the quality of learning. There is also a strong focus on effective school leadership, adequate and appropriate resources, and safe school environments that encourage learning.
  • Strengthening links with other sectors and areas that impact on the performance of education. This includes mechanisms to provide specific support to more vulnerable children such as social protection interventions. Nutrition and food security are key factors in children’s access to education and their cognitive development. Health and Child Protection are also key areas that have an impact on children’s access to education. Parents’ education and stimulation in children’s early years are vital to success in school. Likewise, the quality of public administration is critical, given its responsibility for the management, motivation, deployment and availability of competent and motivated teachers, school principals and education managers.

Adapting to fragile situations

The EU is a global leader in supporting education in emergencies and crisis situations through its humanitarian and development aid programmes. A new EU Communication on Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises was launched in May 2018.

The new policy framework focuses on four priority areas: 

  • Strengthening systems and partnerships for a rapid, efficient, effective and innovative education response
  • Promoting access, inclusion and equity
  • Championing education for peace and protection
  • Supporting quality education for better learning outcomes.

In addition the EU has increased its support to education in emergencies and crises and the share of humanitarian aid for education will increase to at least 10% by 2019. A large proportion of EU bilateral funding (60%) to education under the programming period 2014 - 2020 is allocated to fragile or conflict affected countries. 

The EU has initiated BRiCE - Building Resilience in Crises through Education  (EUR 20 million) which aims to improve access to safe and quality basic education for children in fragile and crisis-affected environments, with a particular focus on evidence building on what works well in crisis environments.


EU-funded interventions completed between 2013-2017 contributed to the following results in partner countries. (Results brochure)


47 763 000 children enrolled in primary education

21 087 000 children enrolled in secondary education

613 000 teachers were trained in partner countries, all providing a foundation for future learning and skills


EU contributed to an improvement in girls’ education. An increasing number of girls complete schooling in the 23 countries where EU budget support targets education.  

With a ratio of 97 girls for 100 boys on average, gender parity in those countries has not materialised yet, but it is within reach. The EU will continue making girls’ education a priority for dialogue and results monitoring. (Budget support trends and results)

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