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Businesses urged to donate more to global education

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

image copyrightTagaza Djibo/ Unesco
image captionGounaka village, Niger: International aid for education has been falling

Big businesses should make a commitment to give at least 20% of philanthropic spending to education projects, according to an international campaign.

It wants to reverse a trend that sees 16 times more corporate charitable spending on health than education.

The Unesco-backed campaign is to be launched at the Global Education and Skills Forum meeting in Dubai.

Unesco's director general, Irina Bokova, says it will help education be made "accessible for all".

An annual monitoring report on global education from Unesco earlier this year showed there were 57 million children who never begin primary school, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the present rate of progress, it will be more than 70 years before all children have access to primary school.

Funding gap

The report highlighted that since the financial crisis there had been a reduction in development aid for education.

This campaign, Business Backs Education, is intended to help close a $26bn (£16bn) annual funding gap needed to provide a school place for all primary-age children.

It wants businesses to spend 20% of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets on education by 2020.

"Business can and should play a much greater role," in both the developed and developing world, says Vikas Pota, convener of the Global Education and Skills Forum and chief executive of the Varkey Gems Foundation.

"Not only because education is a public good but because if business is unable to secure future talent then it will harm economic growth worldwide."

The forum in Dubai is an international event focusing on improving education, with speakers to include former US President Bill Clinton, Andreas Schleicher from the OECD, Ms Bokova and Lord Adonis, a former education minister in England.

The project to promote more support from business is also backed by the Global Business Coalition for Education, chaired by Sarah Brown, wife of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is now a UN envoy for global education.

"This campaign comes at exactly the right moment. Demand for an educated and skilled workforce has never been higher, and the stakes never greater, as we strive to achieve sustainable development and build lasting peace," said Ms Bokova.

"Innovative alliances with business and investment from the private sector will be key to tipping the balance and making quality education accessible to all. Business is a vital part of the equation."

The Unesco chief has previously talked of the importance of tackling illiteracy and improving education and employment prospects as a security issue for many countries.

More on this story

  • The 70-year wait for primary school