Step 4: Analyse the Use of Resources for Education

Budgets reflect governments’ priorities. Without theallocation of resources, especially financial, States cannot realise the right to education. Specifically, States cannot meet theirminimum core obligations, such as securing free and compulsory primary education for all, or the obligation toprogressively realise certain aspects of the right to education, such as the progressive introduction of free secondary, vocational and higher education.

A lack of resources has grave effects on the enjoyment of the right to education because the lack of investment hinders the proper implementation and / or formulation ofeducation policies. For instance, education policies that address lack of access and improving education quality often require the building of schools, the training of teachers, the distribution of textbooks and the inspection of schools.

Using a specific type ofprocess indicator, this step will help you to analyse expenditure and resource allocation ratios, and to identify whether the policy failures you identified in Step 3 are a result of a State’s failure to allocate the necessary resources for the realisation of the right to education.

This step will also help you monitor other finance-related factors, such as corruption, that may be affecting the realisation of the right to education.

Download Step 4 (.pdf)

Dowload the Complete Guide (.pdf)

4.1 Monitor resource allocation

This step will help you assess whether the policy failures you identified in Step 3 are a result of inadequate financing. This will further strengthen your case that the deprivation or inequality you have identified is avoidable.

Firstly, the connection between education financing and the right to education will be explained. You will then be introduced to the three most important expenditure and resource allocation ratios that measure States’ efforts with regard to the fulfilment of the right to education. Lastly, you be guided on how to interpret the data you gather for these ratios when compared to relevant benchmarks.

The role of education and resource allocation ratios in monitoring the right to education

States are subject to different types of obligations regarding the right to education, one of which is totake appropriate financial measures.

Given that all human rights impose positive obligations, it is unthinkable that the obligations the right to education entails can be met without financial resources. However, as explained in What to monitor?, international human rights law acknowledges that the full realisation of the right to education is not immediately achievable due to resource constraints and instead imposes an obligation toprogressively realise certain aspects of the right to education according tomaximum available resources, although it should be stressed that some aspects of the right to education impose obligations of immediate effect.

Obligations of immediate effect are unqualified and not limited by other considerations. Vis-à-vis the right to education obligations of immediate effect include:

  • Ensure the right to education is exercised free from discrimination of any kind.
  • Provide free and compulsory primary education, or if this is not immediately possible States must work out and adopt a plan of action for the progressive implementation, within a reasonable number of years, to be fixed in the plan, of the principle of compulsory education free of charge for all.
  • Take “deliberate, concrete and targeted” steps towards the full realisation of the right to education.

The obligations to secure the right to education free from discrimination and to provide free and compulsory primary education are alsominimum core obligations of the right to education, along with the obligations to:

  • Ensure that education conforms to theaims of education.
  • Adopt and implement a national educational strategy that includes provision for secondary, higher andfundamental education.
  • Ensure free choice of education without interference from the State or third parties, subject to conformity with “minimum educational standards”.

Minimum core obligations are also immediate in nature and must be prioritised when it comes to the allocation of resources.

The remaining content of the right to education is subject to progressive realisation according to maximum available resources. Progressive realisation does not mean States can defer their obligations; rather States have a specific and continuing obligation “to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible”. This means that States must continuously improve conditions necessary for the full realisation of the right to education and refrain from taking retrogressive measures that diminish peoples’ enjoyment of the right to education. For example, budget cuts that have the effect of reducing enjoyment of the right to education, particularly of alreadymarginalised groups, would not be permissible under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, unless such measures have been “introduced after the most careful consideration of all alternatives and that they are fully justified by reference to the totality of the rights provided for in the and in the context of the full use of the State party’s maximum available resources”.

Progressive realisation cannot be understood without reference to maximum available resources. According to theInternational Budget Partnership the use of maximum available resources requires States to:

  • Mobilise as many resources as possible, including maximising domestic revenue through the collection of tax.

  • Prioritise economic, social and cultural rights in the use and allocation of their resources.

  • Efficiently spend funds, including ensuring funds are not wasted through overpaying for goods and services.

  • Ensure that expenditure is effectively spent, that is, expenditures must have the effect of enhancing peoples’ enjoyment of the right to education.

  • Fully spend funds allocated to the right to education.

  • Ensure that funds allocated to education are not be diverted to other areas, especially programmes that are not related to economic, social and cultural rights.

The obligation to dedicate the maximum available resources to the realisation of progressive elements of the right to education is itself subject to the obligation “to strive to ensure the widest possible enjoyment of the right to education under the prevailing conditions”.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) also makes it clear that resource constraints, even in times of economic recession, do not eliminate the obligations to monitor enjoyment levels of the right to education, and to devise strategies and programmes to realise the right to education (Paragraph 11). The CESCR also specifies that there is a special duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society through the adoption of relatively low-cost targeted programmes (Paragraph 12).

Expenditure and resource allocation ratios can be used to conduct a basic analysis of expenditure patterns. Ratios can help to assess the adequacy and distribution of resources allocated to education. More specifically, ratios can help you identify when a government:

  • Devotes insufficient resources to the education sector, hampering the realisation of minimum essential levels or the progressive realisation of the right to education, as illustratedhere.
  • Prioritises aspects of the right to education that are subject to progressive realisation rather than obligations of immediate effect or minimum core obligations, for example disproportionate spending on tertiary versus primary education, as illustratedhere.
  • Fails to raise sufficient revenues to be able to adequately fund the education inputs necessary to fully realise the right to education.

Using the Indicators Selection Tool

To access the finance indicators, selectEducation Financing under the selection criteria Governance and Policy Processes.

If data is available for the indicator you have selected, you will be directed to the relevant source.

Expenditure and allocation ratios

 1.  Education expenditure ratio

This ratio refers to the percentage ofGDP spent on public education. This is the most basic expenditure ratio related to the right to education. It provides a snapshot of the extent of State commitment to the provision of education, reflecting the level of resources the State is willing to invest in education relative to its level of development.

A low education expenditure ratio means that resources may be insufficient to effectively address the various obstacles inhibiting access to quality education.

  2.  Education allocation ratio

This ratio refers to the percentage of public expenditure allocated to education. It reflects the relative priority given to education amongst competing budgetary needs.

According to international law, national sovereignty implies that governments have a wide margin of discretion in selecting the appropriate measures necessary for realising economic, social and cultural rights. This includes spending priorities. Nevertheless, there are limits to that discretion. Therefore, the extent to which a low education allocation ratio is problematic from a human rights perspective depends on the circumstances. If a State has not fulfilled its minimum core obligations regarding the right to education, for example, a significant number of individuals deprived of the most basic forms of education or a wide disparity in the primary completion rates of boys and girls, then a low education allocation ratio would not be justified.

Thus, this ratio can help expose and challenge cases in which a government might make false arguments about lack of sufficient resources to discharge its duty of progressive realisation when, in fact, the problem is not resource constraints but rather the preference of that government to use available resources for other less essential areas, as illustrated here.

  3.  Primary education priority ratio

This ratio, which refers to the percentage of the total education expenditure allocated to primary education, reflects priorities within a given educational system. The interpretation of this ratio will depend once again on the circumstances. Countries that have already achieved high enrolment rates and standards of primary education may be justified in prioritising secondary or higher education, for example. However, in countries where a significant proportion of the population is illiterate or where many children are deprived of the most basic forms of education, a low primary education priority ratio could be interpreted as a violation of the State’s minimum core obligations to provide free and compulsory primary education.

4.2 Compare expenditure and resource allocation ratios with benchmarks

As for Steps 2.3 and 3.3 benchmarks can help you assess the adequacy of the ratio levels. 

Types of benchmarks

Specifically, ratio levels can be compared with the following types of benchmarks:

State formal commitments

Compare ratio levels with guarantees and commitments made in documents such asconstitutions, laws, policies and national plans. For instance, if a country’s national laws state that acertain percentage of the national budget should be allocated to education or stipulate a specific percentage for some level of education (eg primary education) you can compare the actual budget allocation with that set in law and make the case that the budget allocation is inadequate according the country’s own laws.

International benchmarks

TheEducation 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action sets spending targets for educaton at at least 4% to 6% of gross domestic product and / or at least 15% to 20% of total public expenditure. 

Cross-country comparisons

Comparing data across countries can reveal whether levels of education expenditure and allocation ratios are consistent withsimilar countries in the same region.

Cross-sector comparisons

Compare education spending relative to‘non-priority’ sectors within the budget.

Time series analysis

Measuring levels of the same ratios over a period of time can give an indication of whether resources are being employed to progressively realise the right to education. For instance, analysing changes in theeducation allocation ratio can help you track shifts in the relative priority given by the government to the education sector.


4.3 Analyse other financial issues

Beyond looking at expenditure ratios, there are multiple other factors related to the management of financial resources that bear upon the realisation of the right to education according tomaximum available resources, including:

Discriminatory distribution of education resources

The prohibition ofdiscrimination is an immediate obligation under human rights law. This means States cannot invoke a lack of resources as a reason for non-compliance. It is therefore necessary to analyse whether resources are being distributed in a discriminatory manner amongst different groups.

One form of discrimination would be if funding for education is disproportionally allocated to districts where most people are from the majority ethnic or religious group. This could be assessed by comparing the education budget allocated per child in districts where most people are from the majority ethnic or religious group to that where most people are from minority ethnic or religious groups.

Another form of discrimination includes unfair distribution patterns of public education programmes that benefit people other than those who need assistance most. Paragraph 12 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultral Rights (CESCR) General Comment 13 states: “In times of severe resources constraints whether caused by a process of adjustment, of economic recession, or by other factors the vulnerable members of society can and indeed must be protected by the adoption of relatively low-cost targeted programmes.” A failure to meet this immediate obligation can be assessed by contrasting the benefits of a programme with levels of deprivation that the programme is supposed to address, as illustratedhere.

Discrimination resulting in inequities in the quality of the provision of education is a related problem. The CESCR recognises that “sharp disparities in spending policies that result in differing qualities of education for persons residing in different geographic locations may constitute discrimination under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” (CESCR General Comment 13, Para 35). One way to measure this is to compare data,disaggregated by region or municipality, on the quality of an essential education service (eg quality of teachers or conditions of school facilities) with demographic data from the same regions or municipalities disaggregated by ethnic group or poverty level. This could show, for instance, that less qualified teachers – a primary factor in the quality of education – are teaching in the areas largely populated by an ethnic minority or persons living in poverty, as illustratedhere

Gap between approved budget and its execution

Comparing the approved budget for education with theexecution of this budget over time can give an indication of the real commitment (as opposed to its intentions) towards the full realisation of the right to education. This comparison could raise questions regarding the government’s compliance to various types of human rights obligations. For instance, if that comparison shows that the government has not spent a significant percentage of the overall budget that had been approved for the education sector, this may suggest a failure to actually fulfil its obligation of the use of maximum available resources for theprogressive realisation of the right to education, for examples of this, seehere. On the other hand, if the gap between approved budget and its execution is specific to a programme designed to provide the goods and services necessary to ensure that disadvantaged groups (eg girls, children belonging to an ethnic minority, etc) enjoy the right to education, this may suggest a discriminatory practice against that disadvantaged group.

Inertia of the budgetary process may undermine a government’s decision to adopt a policy that prioritises marginalised groups

In many countries budgets are to a great extent determined by inertia – utilising past budget allocations to determine budgets for the forthcoming year. This inertia in the budgetary process mayundermine the intentions of a government to shift its policy priorities in order to comply with its human rights obligation.

The first step in assessing whether the education budget is largely determined by inertia is to compare the current budget with those of previous years. If the education budget (and the composition of the budget, such as the percentage allocated to the various levels of education and amount dedicated to infrastructure) is static buteducation policy has changed significantly, this may indicate that insufficient resources have been allocated to fully implement the new policy.

You may want to interview government officials (from the Treasury or the Ministry of Education) and ask whether, over those years, education priorities have changed. If they have, you should ask them how is it that if priorities have changed, these changes are not reflected in the budget. You may also want to ask whether the Ministry of Education requested extra funds from the Ministry of Finance to adequately cover new education priorities and policies. If they offer no reasonable response, you could reasonably infer that the budget is determined to a great extent by inertia. Alternatively, you may prefer a more direct approach and ask to what extent past budget allocations are used to determine budgets for the upcoming year.

Timely flow of resources

Another aspect that should be assessed is the extent to which resources reach schools in a timely manner. A failure to do so may undermine the government’s efforts to comply with its obligations regarding the right to education. For instance, if schools, local authorities or education ministries receive the funds necessary to buy essential resources (eg textbooks) towards the end of the school year, this may affect children’s right to education. For an example, seehere

Corruption in the education sector

In many countriescorruption in the education sector is rampant, siphoning scarce public resources into private pockets and undermining the government’s ability to provide quality education for all. Frequent forms of corruption in education include the illegal charging of ‘enrolment fees’, selling educational material and school supplies that should be distributed freely, accepting bribes to influence the selection of grant recipients, selling school diplomas or exam scores, and the use of school facilities by administrators or other people for private purposes.

Various aspects of corruption can be assessed. These include:

  • The extent to which there is corruption in the education sector (in comparison with other sectors).
  • The areas of the education sector in which corruption is more widespread (egprocurement of textbooks, demand of illegal fees, chronic absenteeism of teachers, etc).
  • The marginalised groups that bear the brunt of the corruption practices in the education sector.
  • The governance weaknesses (both within the education sector and overall in the country) that are driving corrupt practices (eg inadequate salaries for teachers, inadequate accountability mechanisms, people’s lack of awareness about the services they are entitled to, etc).

Various methods and tools can be used to assess corruption in the education sector, including:

  • Household surveys that measure people’s actual experience with corruption in the education sector (and other relevant sectors) are particularly helpful in assessing the impact of corruption on everyday lives. Experience-based surveys also help to identify the extent to which disadvantaged groups bear the brunt of corrupt social services and whether corruption impacts on access to education and related services.
  • Interviews with various education stakeholders, including parents, teachers, head teachers, representatives of school governance bodies (eg Parent Teacher Associations) and local government officials, can help to uncover problems in the use of public resources for education and in the accountability mechanisms regarding those resources. For examples of relevant questions, seehere. For examples of monitoring exercises using this method, seehere.
  • Another method for assessing financial management is to track public expenditures. Data on budget allocations on education provides a rough indication of the relative importance a government attributes to this area, but offers little insight into how much actually reaches schools. To analyse this and other issues related to budget utilisation, Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys (PETS) devised by the World Bank could help you to track the flow of resources from the central government (eg Ministry of Finance) through the various levels of state administration down to schools the front-line service facilities, focusing on en route leakages and corruption. For information on conducting PETS, seehere. For an example of the effectiveness of this method, seehere.


Download Step 4 (.pdf)

Dowload the Complete Guide (.pdf)