Executive summary: The Cost of Education in Lebanon -Treasury and Society Expenditure

Executive summary

This report aims to identify the expenditure on education in Lebanon by the government, the wider society and international donors. It intends to assess the efficiency of the current educational policies and programs, and to examine whether the quality of the educational outcomes is proportionate to the expenditure. The overall objective of this study is to help decision makers, legislators, citizens, educational bodies, researchers, and civil society organizations identify the existing gaps in expenditure and to improve the deployment of the resources.

This study adopted the desk research methodology, analyzing data from available sources, and comparing them all together and with figures from our previous studies, in order to reveal major disparities. Therefore, we thoroughly reviewed the general budget items from 2011 to 2022, and examined the financing of education and education programs, which overlaps with school allowances in the public treasury. We also surveyed grants, aid, and loans from international agencies, in addition to society’s spending on private education during the same period. One of the major difficulties encountered in our research is Lebanon’s lack of an official or international platform that publishes transparent data and numbers. This has been noted by international institutions who have long pointed out this deficiency in their reports. Furthermore, the sources of financial revenues for education are highly complex. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the Ministry of Finance have multiple figures for their spending. All this made it difficult to determine the exact financial revenues and expenditure. This is why we adopted an approach based on surveying and connecting information from reliable sources and international reports. We also studied and analyzed the budget of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, researching its expenditure course, and calculating the amounts of used and unused money.

Based on the analysis of data and figures, the study provides clear conclusions on the structural imbalance in the educational system, the strategic vision, the public policies, the administration, the structure of the concerned institutions, and the interplay of partisan politics with educational policies. To reach comprehensive conclusions, it examines four main axes: the expenditure on public education, the treasury and public authorities expenditure on private education, the society’s expenditure on private education, and the efficiency of education expenditure.


Increase in the expenditure on education by the state and donors over the past ten years

The general budgets’ allocations in the Ministry of Education in 2011 were around $769 million. This number increased successively over the years, to exceed $1.39 billion in 2018, and maintained this level in recent years. This increase after 2011 is mainly due to the 2012 wages reform and the 2017 salary scale. It is also attributed to the introduction of afternoon classes for refugee education since 2014, which are covered by donors through the RACEI and RACEII strategies, in addition to the expenses of the inclusive education unit. It is worth mentioning that the aid for refugee education is much higher than the allocations observed in the budget. The aid for the public education sector began to flow annually since 2011 after the Syrian crisis. Thus, the expenditure on education exceeded the treasury allocations by about $250-300 million annually due to various aid, financial loans, and in-kind assistance. It maintained the same level the following years. Based on figures from the Ministry of Finance, it appears that the education sector received 1.2 billion dollars through direct loans, grants, and financial aid contracts (2011-2021) approved by the government, not counting the unsigned agreements with the Lebanese state. However, the Lebanese Ministry of Education received a total of 2.5 billion dollars in direct and indirect loans, grants and donations (2011- 2022) again excluding unsigned agreements with the Lebanese state.


Accountability and transparency for reporting on funding needs to be strengthened.

We could not accurately determine the actual spending on education in the treasury and the Ministry of Finance’s data, which was sometimes inconsistent, and by a large margin. This indicates a lack of auditing, transparency and possible financial prosecution by the Audit Bureau of the Educational Administration. Despite this, the total public expenditure on education from the Ministry’s budget, grants and loans reached more than 14.77 billion dollars between 2011 and 2021, including over 2.27 billion dollars as direct and indirect grants, loans and in-kind donations. Therefore, the cost of the education per student in the allocations of the Ministry of Education and grants increased. Primary school students are the main beneficiaries of the vast majority of aid and grants, while secondary and vocational students benefit less. This raises the cost from 2122$/student in primary school to 2648$, and raises the cost of secondary school education to 6000$/student. Compared to other countries where education is more advanced or regular, like in Turkey, we find this cost to be very high. It should be noted that the expenditure’s figure for each student, from allocations and grants, is an accounting figure. The actual expenditure is lower  because the ministry does not reimburse every budget item. Furthermore, the state spends additional sums on education from other budgets from other ministries, through school allowances.


Higher earners, are the main beneficiaries of the treasury expenditure on school allowances

State contributions to private educational sector reach at least $900 million annually. These are paid from the state treasury or from direct and indirect fees incurred by people. They range from school allowances for public sector employees, to mutual funds, support for free schools, and rents, and go mostly to private educational institutions. High-income groups benefit from 64% of this aid, while the poor and the poorest receive merely 16% of school allowances. This reflects the inequity of the treasury’s expenditure on education, as the most vulnerable receive low-levels of assistance, reinforcing the disparities between social groups. This results in the loss of equal learning opportunities for vulnerable groups as opposed to the wealthy.


The public sector weakness, a source of profit for religious educational institutions and political parties

While the government annual contributions to the private education sector amounts to $900 million, the turnover of private schools exceeds $3 billion annually both from the society and treasury’s expenditure. This means that the state funds nearly one third of the revenues of private schools. Non-free private schools earn around one third of their turnover, equivalent to one billion dollars annually, knowing that they are non-profit and tax-exempt institutions. $900 million (before 2019) is the equivalent of the state expenditure on public pre-tertiary education. It is worth noting that political and religious parties own many of these schools. They thus benefit from the public sector’s weakness and public treasury expenditure on private education.


Inflated and inefficient expenditure, Lebanon ranks last among Arab countries

The study reveals the expenditure gaps, their impact on the quality of education, and the continuous decline of learning outcomes in Lebanon. Prior to 2000, this decline accelerated after 2010, culminating after the COVID-19 lockdown in 2019 and the subsequent economic crisis. Since 2011, the educational system witnessed an influx of donor funds and emergency and in-kind aid, which targeted educational development programs, infrastructure, administrative systems, curricula, the ministry, and the CERD Educational Center for Research and Development (CRDP). Despite this, the learning outcomes and international exam results did not progress. Lebanon reached the last rank among Arab countries in 2018. The outcomes declined, and they still are, especially in the public sector, after two years of closure and two academic years obstructed by the failure to ensure the academic years’ stability.


Low educational outcomes against high education expenditure 

Although private schools’ results  in international exams surpassed public schools by 4 points, the general average for Lebanon, is still much lower than the global average. Learning Assessment Years of Schooling (LAYS) has been declining steadily since 2010 until now . Out of 12 school years, 6.3 are efficient years, while the OECD average is 10.8. The decision to reduce teaching days from 180 to 120 days in 2016 for administrative and financial reasons reinforced this regression. The educational system faced many challenges in recent years especially in public schools, like forced closure, failure to reinitiate the school year after two consecutive years of lockdown, the reduction of teaching days to 96 days. With the failure of the last two academic years (60 days of actual teaching), the school years’ efficiency will decline in Lebanon for at least another 3 years. It will lose half of its previous average without any efficient recovery plan and compensation for the educational loss. It should be emphasized that, despite the high expenditure on public and private education during the past ten years ($43 billion) to educate over one million children in Lebanon annually, the low quality of education and its regression would prevent any financial benefit.


The need to study the academic and social impact of four interrupted academic years

After ten years of decline and amid large expenditures , the efficiency is still very low. If the same approach continues, we risk falling into a systematic obscurantism of the society. The impact and repercussions of the last ten years is likely to require many years to compensate the damage and restore the stability of education. The gap between social groups and so will partisan and financial dependence is also likely to increase. Children in state schools will be at a greater disadvantage in terms of  access to quality education.

To shorten the lifetime and contain the current crisis, a series of steps must be taken.  The priority must be focused on avoiding another interruption of the academic year. To this end, it is critical to conduct an assessment of the estimated cost of the forthcoming academic year and to  secure the necessary funding. This is critical for preventing another teacher strike.

Another important step in any educational plan should focus on recovery of loss of leaning which occurred over the past four years, Therefore, an assessment of the impact of four years of interrupted schooling is needed in for planning for a recovery plan of the sector.

The role and contribution of the donor community in the educational system has been a key finding in this study.  Further reflections are needed concerning their future role and their approach to supporting the ministry of education. More participatory approaches involving a wider set of actors in thinking and planning the educational priorities to be funded and means of implementations is more likely to yield more coherent and effective results. Finally they have a critical role in ensuring that any funding is monitored transparently and the data is shared publicly.

Finally, and linked to the point on accountability, the challenge in accessing data when conducting this study, highlights the importance of access to data which is critical for assessing the efficiency of education expenditure.