Businesses urged to boost spend on global education

Businesses urged to help close $26bn global shortfall in education

Businesses have been urged to commit at least 20 per cent of charitable spending to education projects to help close a $26bn global shortfall that has left millions of children out of school.

Private firms invest an estimated $548m a year in education in developing countries, according to the UN's education arm Unesco.

The campaign ‘Business Backs Education’, which was launched during an education forum in Dubai on Monday, calls on companies to double their CSR spending to $1bn by this time next year to help countries offer basic schooling to all.

“This campaign comes at exactly the right moment,” said Irina Bokova, director general of Unesco, a partner in the campaign. “Demand for an educated and skilled workforce, has never been higher. Investment from the private sector will be key to tipping the balance and making quality education accessible to all.”

The UN agency’s ‘Education for All’ goals, unveiled in 2000, call for expanded early childhood education, free and compulsory primary education, increased adult literacy, gender parity and the promotion of life skills among young adults.

An annual report from Unesco published last year, however, showed 57 million children worldwide remain out of school, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. There has also been little progress in reducing the rate at which children drop out of school.

This has coincided with a crunch in donor contributions for basic education. Aid to the sector fell by 7 per cent between 2010 and 2011, according to Unesco, leaving a funding gap of $26bn.

Healthcare, by comparison, attracts 16 times more corporate philanthropic spending than education.

“Business can and should play a much greater role in developing the public sector’s ability to improve education access,” said Vikas Pota, CEO of the Varkey Gems Foundation and convener of this week's Global Education Skills Forum. “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 campaign will see five summits hosted in cities around the world this year, to encourage businesses to bolster their CSR spend on education to 20 per cent by 2020.

It will also publish a list of the top 30 listed companies on each major financial exchange ranked by their investment in education.

Early signatories to the global drive include Crescent Petroleum, retail conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim, and Dubai state-backed hospitality company Jumeirah Group. “The most important resource for any business in any sector anywhere in the world is our human talent,” said Majid Jafar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum and co-chair of the campaign. “The best investment in that resource starts always with education.”

Former US President Bill Clinton opened the forum on Sunday with a plea for education to be seen as global concern on par with health, poverty and climate change.

“Young people who are educated are likely to earn greater incomes, resist conflict and support democracy,” he told delegates. “A high quality education is profoundly important to get children off to a good start.”