UNESCO Calls on Global 500 to Increase Education Funding

UNESCO Calls on Global 500 to Increase Education Funding

Laura Bridgestock

Updated February 2, 2024 Updated February 02

A new report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calls for greater investment in education funding from the world’s highest-revenue companies – the Fortune Global 500.

Titled “Business Backs Education”, the report reveals that Fortune Global 500 companies spent a total of US$2.6 billion on education-related initiatives in 2013, comprising 13% of their combined corporate social responsibility (CSR) budget. By 2020, UNESCO says that should be 20%.

Published in January ahead of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, the report is part of a UNESCO-backed campaign, calling for greater and more effective investment in education from the private sector.

How do Global 500 companies support education?

Less than half of Global 500 companies were found to allocate any CSR funding to higher education, and just 4.3% of CSR investments went towards higher education funding schemes such as scholarships, grants, infrastructure and research resources.

Between 2011 and 2013, the Global 500’s top 10 investors in education were Banco Santander, IBM, Telefonica, ExxonMobil, Target, GlaxoSmithKline, Microsoft, Toyota Motor, Rio Tinto Group and Wells Fargo. Of these, ExxonMobil was the leader in higher education funding, allocating US$47.3 million to CSR activities in this field in 2013.

Global 500 companies based in North America were found to be especially likely to provide higher education funding in the form of scholarships, while companies within the financial sector were particularly likely to fund financial literacy initiatives. UNESCO argues that from a global perspective, these may not be the most pressing priorities.

While regional priorities vary considerably between companies, overall the Asia-Pacific region has been the largest beneficiary of education funding via CSR schemes, ahead of Africa and Latin America.

Recommendations for more effective education funding

UNESCO argues that funding for education continues to lag seriously behind global demand, and that education has long been neglected by CSR initiatives, which have tended to focus on sectors such as healthcare.

In setting a target for 20% of CSR funding to be spent on education, UNESCO is challenging big businesses to match the same percentages as those it recommends to governments and Official Development Assistance.

The report concludes with a set of recommendations for companies, outlining strategies for more effective CSR activities in the education sector. Key points include: thinking long-term; ensuring CSR projects are well-integrated with business models; focusing on needs-based initiatives; and coordinating effectively with other agencies.

Simply investing more cash may not always lead to the biggest impact, the report argues; instead, approaches based on effective innovation and collaboration may lead to better outcomes in the long run.

This article was originally published in February 2015 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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