Bernie Lovegrove

Bernie Lovegrove, ASPBAE Program Officer, explores financial aspects
of the promotion of adult education in his paper. His comments
will focus on financing for Community Based Adult Education (CBAE),
on ASPBAE’s recent experience in securing funding for its own work
and on its efforts at promoting funding support for CBAE more generally.

Dancing with Donors: Financing of Adult Education

International Overview

There is sadly very limited funding made available for CBAE by governments
or donors. Education generally ranks low in donor funding
priorities – the “poor cousin”.

Most education funding goes to primary education. So adult education is the poor cousin of the poor cousin. Of what is available for adult education, a high percentage goes to adult literacy. So CBAE is the “poor cousin thrice removed”.

Why is it that CBAE is not more of a priority with governments and donors?

  • Donors are not convinced of its value. It is difficult to measure its impact.


  • The proponents of CBAE have not been effective in promoting its role and benefits to donors or governments. At the international level for example, the ICAE is struggling to find the resources to survive, let alone to make its voice heard where it counts.


  • The CBAE “voice” is not clear and sharp even amongst proponents of CBAE. Until we are clearer amongst ourselves we have little hope of convincing anyone else of the merits of CBAE.


The World Bank is funding a Fast Track Initiative (FTI) for poorest countries, purportedly as part of its contribution to Education for All (EFA). However the focus of the FTI is on Universal Primary Education (UPE) and girls’ education. The problem is that the World Bank is focusing on only two of the six EFA goals, and they do not include CBAE. Rather than support all six goals, which was the will of the international education community at Dakar 2000, the World Bank chooses to focus on the two education goals it pushed to be included as part of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The ADB has funded Non-Formal Education (NFE) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) projects but usually those of its own design without necessarily much consultation with the recipient communities. UN instruments such as UNDP fund adult education but usually as components of thematic projects with other objectives, such as training for environmental protection. It has also funded small NFE projects, for example in the Pacific


Education is a low priority for most bilateral agencies. Most funds are directed to primary education. For adult education, the focus is on higher education, especially funds that go to Northern universities for scholarships for students from poorer countries. CBAE receives the least funding and this is hard to track since it often does not have its own budget line and is subsumed under other categories within in-country projects. German government funding through DVV specifically for adult education both at regional and in-country levels is very much an exception to the norm.

Many bilateral organisations such as Australia’s AusAID still see funding of NGOs or CSOs as a risky option. NGOs are often thought of as being less than professional, less reliable in acquitting funds and often lacking the capacity to handle programmes involving large amounts of money. Nonetheless, some bilaterals such as Canadian CIDA and Swedish SIDA and other Scandinavian bilaterals have in the recent past provided funds for adult education, for example supporting the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE). However it is unclear if this will continue.

The British aid agency, DFID has provided significant funding for a Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF) that benefits mostly African and South Asian Commonwealth countries, but is not focused particularly on adult education. The Dutch government has recently agreed to fund a substantial proposal put forward by the Global Campaign on Education (GCE) to support national level CSO coalition building to undertake effective education policy advocacy in Asia, Africa and possibly Latin America. Adult education is included here but is by no means singled out for support.

In the past few months ASPBAE has managed to secure substantial funding support from NZAID, one of the more progressive bilateral aid agencies, for building CSO capacities to engage in education policy advocacy in the Pacific. Here again CBAE is not funded on its own but as part of a broader agenda to support CSO involvement in education policy debates. Over the past few years, ASPBAE has secured small amounts from AusAID for professional development and capacity building of CBAE NGOs in Indonesia and PNG.

The European Union may emerge as an important new source for funding of adult education, but proposals have a long lead time and the process of applying is time-consuming and very bureaucratic.


Very few foundations fund adult education directly. In the US, where most of the foundation money lies, 70% is spent in the US. Small amounts may be secured under certain thematic areas but usually adult education and training are part of a different project objective. This is true also of Japanese foundations. ASPBAE has been successful in the recent past with funding for its Indigenous Education Programme through the Japan Foundation Asia Centre. The SDTT Trust in India has provided short-term funds for thematic projects. The Commonwealth Foundation (CF) has in the recent past provided small amounts in support of a Commonwealth adult education network (CAETA), which is now defunct. CF also runs a Citizenship and Governance Programme that has provided seed funding for selected programmes including two of ASPBAE’s Pacific Cit Ed projects.

Northern NGOs

Some NNGOs such as Oxfam fund CBAE. So too do ActionAid and World Vision. The latter two tend to support their own programmes and in-country offices. None of them choose to support CBAE especially. In fact most favour funding basic education: UPE and adult literacy. Many Church-based NNGOs such as Bread for the World (Germany), CCFD (France) or Misereor (Germany) support projects that have significant CBAE components but not CBAE as such. As with foundations, NNGOs may provide small amounts under certain thematic areas but usually adult education and training are part of a larger project objective.

On a bright note, ASPBAE has developed a strong partnership over the past 12 months with Oxfam New Zealand in relation to its Education for Active Citizenship and Good Governance (Cit Ed) Programme. This is a substantial programme likely to last at least three years.


GCE is an international collaboration of Northern and Southern CSOs for advocacy on EFA and capacity building of CSOs to undertake advocacy on EFA. It is now proving to be capable of mobilising resources. GCE is an important new development. It galvanises the credibility and common purpose of many key CSOs and coalitions that have a broad support base: organisations such as Oxfam International, Education International, ActionAid, Save The Children Fund, World Vision International, ASPBAE, CEAAL (Latin American adult education network), ANCEFA (African education network), and Global March are involved along with many Southern national level coalitions.

Part of GCE’s advocacy agenda is to push for greater financing for adult education but only as part of its advocacy for the achievement of all six EFA Goals. In fact within GCE there is work to be done by adult education proponents to convince some organisations of the value of pushing CBAE. Again there is the call for clarity and sharper advocacy for CBAE. Participation in GCE presents adult education organisations such as ASPBAE with a great opportunity to galvanise support from other organisations for its cause by hitching it to their interests under the common objective of achieving all six EFA goals. But we need to meet the challenge of sharper focus.

Thematic Interest

Support for thematic areas comes and goes with donors, often following the latest fad or catch-cry. ASPBAE has been successful in securing funds for a range of thematic areas in recent years. The most recent are Cit Ed and Education for Conflict Prevention. There may be further opportunities for funding support for CBAE in such areas as HIV/AIDS education, ICT for marginalised peoples and education for job creation.

Donors are highly unlikely to fund:

  • one-off conferences, educational exchanges or regional or subregional events on adult education


  • core organisational costs for adult education organisations such as staff positions and office overheads

For a regional organisation such as ASPBAE, donors are more likely to provide substantial funding for programmes that:

  • are multi-year programmes with specific achievable, measurable outcomes


  • are built on long-term partnerships with credible in-country partners


  • can demonstrate the added value of a regional or sub-regional dimension to the work


  • have clear capacity building dimensions for in-country partners


  • can link national and regional level work to global impacts

Long-term partnerships need to be cultivated with the most promising donors. This means building relationships with key staff in donor organisations and face-to-face meetings, and building credibility and organising successful events that donor representatives can witness personally.

Whatever way we look at it, financing for adult education, especially CBAE, is sadly very low and not easy to obtain. Nor is it easy to advocate for. The task is not made any easier with many current vague notions of adult education and CBAE.

Let me close by highlighting this key point. There is a lack of conceptual clarity, for example in expressions such as “Non-Formal Education”. For some this means low quality education – the consolation prize for not having real education. For others it implies unorganised and unprofessional education. Yet most of us here would know of CBAE programmes that are very sharp, of high quality and very professionally run.

Then there is a problem of focus. For example, what is it exactly that CBAE wants governments and donors to fund? What are the cutting edges? Do we advocate for courses in cooking appreciation as much as for courses in political awareness-raising or advocacy for policy change? Because lifelong learning means everything and anything, does the constant reference to it further blunt the edge and hinder the cause of mobilising resources and conviction from donors and governments for CBAE?

Three of the six EFA goals relate to CBAE:

  • Goal 3: “Ensuring that the leaning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes”


  • Goal 4: “Achieving a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy in 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults”


  • Goal 6: “Improving all aspects of the equality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognised and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills”

In relation to goals 3 and 6 we could ask ourselves: what are the essential life skills that need to be learned? Is there a priority short list that could be agreed upon?

In goal 4 we could ask: what sort of continuing education is most important for adults, especially the most marginalised?

In goal 6 we could ask: can essential life skills be measured, and should we attempt this?

Donors are not willing to fund vague general notions of life skills or of continuing education. Unless we who promote CBAE are clearer about our specific priorities then it is going to continue to be very difficult for us to convince donors and governments alike.

Future Strategies

There are many unpredictable factors that make strategising for increased funding for adult education difficult. Clearly a major generator of unpredictability is the impact of probable war on Iraq, for example, the possible shifting of allegiances and donor priorities; the sudden re-allocation of donor resources; possible constraints on travel affecting programmes; the value of the US dollar, etc.

Nonetheless some key strategies would seem to be:

  • Concentrate on donors interested in long-term partnerships


  • Aim for larger multi-year proposals so that we gain greater impact for effort, while still taking up highly likely smaller short-term offers. As an earlier speaker mentioned: “Let’s undertake no wild goose chases but let’s pluck feathers where we can on the way.”


  • Aim for collaboration with credible in-country organisations

In such a context, the relationship between ASPBAE and DVV is indeed special and we need to work to ensure the relationship remains strong and dynamic. Separately and together we need to cooperate internationally with a range of players to sharpen our focus and to mobilise resources in support of quality adult education. This means some further dancing with each other and also further dancing with donors.

Perhaps in this dance with donors and with each other in international cooperation we can learn something from the art of Chinese calligraphy, where the successful painting of Chinese characters requires the limbs to be long and graceful, like a dancer, limbs that stretch out and make confident, open strokes.

Adult Education and Development


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