Foreign aid is supposed to go to foreign countries. But there are many grey areas in terms of what can be counted as aid, and who can be classified as a recipient. Figures on total aid to education, for example, suggest France is a top performer: it was the largest bilateral donor to education in 2009 (the latest year for which data are available) with $1.9 billion disbursed. But only a quarter of this sum goes to developing countries. The rest essentially stays in France, or directly benefits French citizens.
Such practices should come under scrutiny on Wednesday at a panel discussion in Paris on French aid, featuring Melinda Gates, co-president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The panel debate at the social science college EHESS (École des hautes études en sciences sociales) has been convened by the advocacy network ONE in collaboration with the news website the Huffington Post and the French think tank IDDRI.
Only a quarter of French aid to education is spent on developing countries’ education systems. For several years in the Education for All Global Monitoring Report we have highlighted the fact that the majority of aid to post-secondary education from France, Germany and smaller donors such as Austria or Portugal goes to “imputed student costs,” or the cost of educating developing-country students in institutions in donor countries. As the figure here shows, in 2009 half of all French aid to education was channelled to French higher education institutions that way.
Of the remaining half, a good chunk goes to two French “overseas collectivities,” a unique status between an overseas department (officially part of France) and an independent territory. Mayotte, an island in the Indian Ocean, became an overseas French department in 2011, and in the years running up to this change of status, France poured millions into its education system.