A cross-party committee of MPs has voiced concern over the failure to monitor the value for money of £1 billion of aid donated by the UK to boost primary education in Africa and Asia.
The Department for International Development has “no coherent framework” to measure whether the aid makes any difference to school attendance or pupils’ achievements, said the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which gave the department a year to improve.
The committee was “extremely concerned” that a series of frauds were uncovered in an educational programme supported by UK taxpayers’ money in Kenya, after DFID had judged the risk of money going astray “manageable”.
The previous Labour administration committed the UK to spending at least £1 billion annually on education aid from 2010/11. And the current coalition Government has made aid the only area outside the NHS to be protected from cuts, promising to increase DFID spending from £7.8 billion to £11.5 billion by 2014/15.
DFID’s focus for educational programmes has been to improve and expand state primary school networks in 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
The majority have increased school enrolment from 50% or lower to 70%-90% and 14 are on track to meet UN Millennium Development Goals on education by 2015.
The PAC report welcomed DFID’s aims and the progress made, but added: “We have significant concerns about its ability to assess the value for money of its spending.”
It was “unacceptable” that DFID seemed willing to rely on “selective examples and anecdotes” to demonstrate the effectiveness of its spending.
“We were unconvinced that growth in enrolment would not have occurred without the department’s investment,” said the report, noting that more than 50% of the growth in school attendance in Kenya came in private schools which were not supported by DFID cash.
The committee welcomed DFID’s decision to appoint a director of value for money, Liz Ditchburn, but said that until new measures of the effectiveness of education spending were in place, “we can have little confidence that UK taxpayers’ money is securing the fullest benefits for poor people overseas”. The committee was “surprised” that value for money had not previously been a primary focus for the department.