The implementation of the right to education requires funding in order to build schools, pay teachers’ salaries and training, provide teaching materials, etc.

Under international law, states have the obligation to use the maximum of their available resources to realise the right to education. Even when a state’s resources are very limited, it is obliged to prioritise certain immediate obligations, such as the introduction of free primary education and to guarantee education for all without discrimination. It is also obliged to provide progressively free secondary and higher education and to continuously improve the quality of education. This means that it must take immediate and progressive steps to fully realise the right to education and must not take retrogressive measures.

To implement the right to education effectively, states should ensure that a sufficient proportion of the national budget is allocated to education financing and that the money is used effectively and equitably to guarantee education for all, as well as redress inequalities.

International Declarations, such as the 2011 Jomtien Statement, recognise that states should spend at least 6% of their GDP and /or at least 20% of their national budgets on education in order to achieve quality education for all. In some states, the national education budget is guaranteed by the constitution or legislation, for example in Brazil, Costa Rica and Indonesia.


Education is mainly financed with domestic revenues raised through national taxation. However, national tax policies often fail to generate sufficient income, resulting in civil society organisations campaigning for a fair tax system. See, for example, the ActionAid Global Tax Power Campaign and the GCE publication A Taxing Business: Financing education for all through domestic resources (2013). 

Macroeconomic policies may also obstruct investment in education. For many years the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed public sector wage bill caps on low-income countries as a condition of loan agreements and these actively blocked investments in teacher salaries until coordinated research and campaigning persuaded the IMF to remove these conditions. See the ActionAid Report Confronting the contradictions: the IMF, wage bill caps and the case for teachers (2007).

When domestic revenues are not enough, the international community should provide aid contributions (ICESCR, 1966, Article 4; CRC, 1998, Article 4 and 28 (3)). It is important that this is done in a harmonised way rather than through fragmented projects and the best example of pooled funding is the Global Partnership for Education (made up of donor governments, multilateral development agencies, developing country governments, civil society, and other stakeholders) which provides coordinated funding and support to governments with credible education sector plans in developing countries. Even though there is a shared responsibility for the implementation of the right to education worldwide, there is presently a trend amongst donors of reducing their aid support for basic education.

Despite a global financial crisis, the main barrier to adequately financing education continues to be a lack of political will. In addition, corruption is major impediment to the realisation of the right to education. For more information see Transparency International’s website.

In response to the education financial crisis, some stakeholders have called for more business investment in education markets. However, as stated by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education: 'the concept of education as public good is important in enhancing public investment in education… It provides the basis for regulating private providers of education so that the social interest in education is not sacrificed for the sake of private profit'.

It is important to assess the national budget raised, allocated and spent to education when monitoring the implementation of the right to education at the national level in order to determine if the government is doing the best it can to realise the right to education. More information on how to analyse education financing issues can be found in ActionAid/GCE toolkit Education Rights. A guide for practitioners and activists (2007, Chapter 3) and in IHRIP/IBP toolkit Reading the books: Governments’ budgets and the right to education (2010).

General Comment 13 (1999, Paras 1, 43, 44, 51, 53, 54, 56, 60)

General Comment 11 (1999, Paras 3, 9)

General Comment 3 on the nature of the States parties obligations (1990)

  • Jakarta Declaration, 2005 adopted at the International Conference on the Right to Basic Education as a Fundamental human right and the Legal Framework for its Financing (Paragraph IV)
  • Jomtien Statement, 2011 adopted at the 10th Meeting of the High-Level Group on Education for All (EFA) (Paragraph 6)

For more details see International Instruments - Education Financing