Education charities have expressed disappointment after a summit hosted by Boris Johnson to raise money for education around the world fell well short of its fundraising target.
The prime minister's Global Education Summit missed its goal by $1bn (£716m) after other countries followed the UK’s example of skimping on its aid pledge.
Save the Children’s head of education, Emma Wagner, said the failure showed the UK's “diminishing leadership on the world stage following its devastating aid cuts and a lacklustre G7 summit”.
And Plan International UK's chief executive Rose Caldwell noted that it was the “first time in history that the host of a major education finance summit has simultaneously cut their overall funding for global education”.
Education organisations had called on the UK to offer £600m to meet the current global education crisis, but the Treasury ultimately only offered £430m. The spendthrift approach was reflected in other donations, which came to just $4bn – below the stated $5bn target.
Boris Johnson capped off the day’s fundraising with a keynote speech in which he described education investment as the “Swiss army knife” in terms of the amount of global issues it could solve.
“This is the silver bullet, this is the magic potion, this is the panacea, this is the universal cure, this is the Swiss army knife, complete with allen key and screwdriver and everything else, that can solve virtually every problem that inflicts humanity,” he said.
“I’m absolutely serious. If you educate the world properly, fairly, then of course you end a great natural injustice but you also ... perform the most fantastic benefits for humanity.”
Mr Johnson added: “You lift life expectancy, you lift GDP, you deal with infant mortality and if you educate people properly in the way that they deserve, then, of course, you help to end all kinds of ignorance and prejudice.
“By educating people, you help to end all the things that ignorance and prejudice helps to create, so you deal with terrorism and war and extremism, and you help people to tackle climate change.”
But charities lined up to point the finger at the PM for the lacklustre result, which came following substantial cuts to UK aid spending. Lis Wallace, UK head of advocacy at ONE, described the outcome as a “decidedly underwhelming result”.
“As host, the UK has to shoulder responsibility for this outcome. Despite bold words and bombast about the importance of girls’ education, the prime minister has not demonstrated the leadership expected,” she said.
“The UK aid cuts have impaired the government’s efforts to leverage others, and damaged our credibility. This is not just letting down millions of children, it’s a bad look for British diplomacy.”
Save the Children’s Emma Wagner added: “Today world leaders have failed to respond to the scale of the global education crisis exacerbated by Covid-19. The total pledged is a full $1bn short of the $5bn target.
“The failure of the UK as co-host to mobilise sufficient funds is a clear example of its diminishing leadership on the world stage following its devastating aid cuts and a lacklustre G7 summit. The UK’s own pledge to in June fell well short of expectations and clearly failed to galvanise the global action required at the summit.
“Across the world, children hardest hit by inequality and discrimination will pay the price. Following school closures during the pandemic, 16 million may never return to the classroom, on top of the 258 million children already denied their right to quality education.
“If the UK is serious about being a global leader on girls’ education and green recovery, it must up its game on the world stage. The government must take urgent action to mobilise additional funding for education to ensure an equitable Covid-19 recovery.”
Plan International UK’s Rose Caldwell said donor governments had “failed to grasp the scale of the global education crisis”.
“As co-host of the summit, the prime minister has trumpeted his own commitment to girls’ education even while cutting the overall aid budget. It is little surprise that he has struggled to inspire other governments,” she argued.
“This is the first time in history that the host of a major education finance summit has simultaneously cut their overall funding for global education. Girls around the world called for the UK to listen and fund education; they asked for leadership, but they got broken promises.
“The G7 resulted in strong political commitments on girls’ education, yet now there is not enough money to back them up. We urge the UK and other donor governments to step up and fill this gap, especially as they prepare for the climate summit in December. Covid-19 has created the biggest education emergency of our lifetime and we need funding that reflects the scale and urgency of children’s needs. Without it, millions of girls could see their chance for an education lost forever.”
Mr Johnson has previously spoken of the importance of education for girls, arguing it was his “fervant belief” that it would be key in ending poverty.
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