Unlocking the funding to educate the world’s refugee children

Education Financing

Courtesy of Save the Children, originally published here.

The 21st century and the crises it has faced means that there are more forcibly displaced children around the world now than at any other time in modern history. Children like Harriet*, who we feature in our new report – The Price of Hope – published today on the eve of World Refugee Day. 

Harriet, 14, lives in a refugee settlement in Northern Uganda, having fled South Sudan with her family when the sound of gunshots came to their village. Harriet only brought a handful of belongings with her, including a radio, a yellow dress and her school uniform. She is determined to be become a lawyer and make life better for people in South Sudan. 

Refugee children from South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and many other countries have been uprooted from their homes. Many have lost parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. They have witnessed unspeakable acts of violence. These children need security and a chance to rebuild their lives.

Yet despite international commitments, a generation of refugee children are being deprived of the education they need to restore their hopes for a brighter future. They are missing out on an average of three to four years of schooling, and close to half of all refugee children – 48% – remain out of education all together.  

Educating the world’s refugees is a shared global responsibility 

76% of refugees and other people in need of international protection are hosted in low- and middle-income countries where learning poverty is high and under-resourced education systems are over-stretched and unequipped to meet the needs of refugee learners. 

In countries like Uganda, which has an open-door immigration policy that has made it a safe haven for many fleeing conflict and persecution, currently hosting 1.5 million refugees.

Refugee hosting countries are facing inordinate financing challenges, and many receive little to no international support, despite the global public good they perform by opening their borders and educating the world’s refugees. This is not only morally unjust but economically untenable.

Save the Children's Report cover
Save the Children's New Report: The Price of Hope

That’s why today Save the Children is calling on the international community to mobilise the funding needed to meet the annual US$4.85 billion cost of providing education to refugees and strengthening education systems in low- and middle-income countries. 

Our new report sets out a series of recommendations to donors and multilateral institutions on how to support some of the poorest refugee-hosting countries to deliver education that will benefit refugee and host community children alike. 

Without mobilising sufficient funding, the world’s promises on refugee education will never be realised

There are many policy and political barriers that must still be overcome to realise the promise in the Global Compact on Refugees to get all children in school and learning within a few months of their displacement. But our report highlights why financing is one of the most critical. 

The growing funding gap for refugee education is exacerbated by worsening debt burdens in low- and middle-income countries. 

Our new analysis shows that 4 out of the 14 low- and middle-income countries who host the most refugees spent more servicing external debt than on education in 2020.  

What’s more, these 14 countries paid more than US$23 billion in interest payments on external debt alone in 2020. This is enough to send every refugee child in low- and middle-income countries to school for nearly five years.

Securing the funding 

The good news is that later this year the international community has the opportunity to come together to close the funding gap for refugee education at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum (GRF).

Taking place every four years, the Forum brings together states and other actors to commit to financial or technical support or policy changes to make the promises in the Global Compact a reality.

At this year’s Forum the international community must recommit to refugee education and to getting progress back on track through the fulfilment of existing commitments and delivery of new meaningful, accountable and actionable matched pledges with host countries.

It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create new hope for the world’s refugees, but commitments must be backed with cash if we are to give a generation of refugee children the opportunities that come with education and the chance to rebuild their lives.

For more information read Save the Children’s new refugee education report, The Price of Hope: Funding education for the world’s refugee children


Headshot author

Oliver Mawhinney is the Senior Education Adviser in the Global Education team at Save the Children UK. He leads the team’s work on education in emergencies and also co-chair the Policy and Parliamentary Work Group for the Send My Friend to School coalition.