The former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has called for Britain to return its aid budget to pre-cuts levels “as soon as possible”.
Gillard, who now campaigns for education in lower-income countries as chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), said she wanted the British government to step up with an “ambitious pledge” for global education when it co-hosts the G7 summit next month.
The UK is reducing its aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) this year, amounting to a £4bn cut.
Boris Johnson has made girls’ education a priority during Britain’s presidency of the G7 and ministers are expected to agree a new global target to get 40 million more girls into school by 2026.
But the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, who on Thursday announced a £55m education research programme to find the most effective ways to support female enrolment, has faced criticism from within his own party over proposals to cut funding for girls’ education to £400m this year. Since 2016, the average yearly spend has been £672m.
Britain is due to co-host a global education summit with Kenya in July.
“We certainly want to see the UK return to 0.7% as soon as possible,” said Gillard, who visited a school in County Durham with Johnson on Thursday.
“In the context of this year, when the UK is leading the G7, co-hosting with Kenya our global education summit, also hosting climate talks, we think it’s important the UK uses its voice to advocate for girls’ education,” she said.
“We’re looking towards the UK for an ambitious pledge towards the Global Partnership for Education and supporting our work, and using its advocacy strength in the world to align other nations around putting a high priority on education, particularly girls’ education.”
The GPE, which works with governments in 76 countries, wants to raise $5bn (£3.5bn) over the next five years. Raab has not said what Britain’s donation will be, but said it would be “a significant increase” on previous years.
At the organisation’s last pledging summit in 2018, Britain was criticised for failing to increase funding.
Gillard said Covid-19 had created the biggest ever disruption to education. Last year an estimated 1.6 billion children were not in school. GPE estimates that 24 million pupils are unlikely to return to school.