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The Global Cost of Inclusive Refugee Education, January 2021

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Only a marginal increase in public education expenditure in most countries would allow for education for all refugee students in developing nations hosting 85 percent of the world’s refugees, according to this joint World Bank – UNHCR report.

Opening education to all refugee children and their inclusion into national education systems can be achieved at an estimated annual cost of US$4.85 billion globally. This is a pre-COVID estimated cost of educating all refugees. It is likely to increase as the impacts of the pandemic continue to unfold. The Global Cost of Inclusive Refugee Education report finds that in more than half of the countries studied, refugee education cost estimates account for less than one percent of annual public expenditure on primary and secondary education.

At mid-2020 the number of forcibly displaced people globally surpassed the 80 million mark, accounting for one percent of the global population. Among them were 26 million refugees, half of whom are below the age of 18. Many of these children live in protracted crises. They often spend long periods, if not the entirety of their schooling years, in displacement. Educating them is of paramount importance to their future and self-sufficiency.

The methodology of the report is based on the principle of inclusive education i.e. including all refugee children into host country public education systems. Such approach can also lead to better services for local communities in host countries.

The report provides a “what it would take” figure rather than international commitments and obligations or current domestic expenditure on refugee education. Challenges remain in funding refugee education adequately, sustainably, and in a coordinated manner. There is an urgent need to improve the coordination of education financing in fragile and conflict-affected situations.

Funding is not the only condition for universal access and completion of education. While the report is focused on estimating the cost of access to education for refugee children, the importance of improving the quality of education cannot be ignored. The eradication of learning poverty applies to host country populations and refugee children alike, but forms part of a larger exercise and is beyond the scope of this analysis.

The report stresses the importance of undertaking the costing exercise for both host countries and the international community. It is a crucial step towards understanding the needs of refugees and host countries, developing an adequate framework for response, and enabling evidence-based discussions about responsibility-sharing.