Public-sector spending for education in Asia
and the Pacific is showing mixed trends, with
some countries increasing spending while
others are cutting expenditures as a result of
the global financial and economic crisis.
Public education expenditure as a percentage
of GDP of most countries in the region
remains below the recommended 6%
Public expenditure on education is one
indication of the political priority of education
in national policy. In most Asian and Pacific
countries, public spending on education in 2008
ranged from 2.0% to 6.0% of GDP. Only
Timor-Leste, the Maldives and Vanuatu spent
the equivalent of 6.0% or more. Cambodia
(at 1.6%, in 2007) and Azerbaijan (at 1.9%, in
2008) are the only two countries in the region
whose ratio of public expenditure to GDP was
less than 2.0%.
Between 2000 and 2008, the share of public
education expenditure in GDP increased in
8 countries. The opposite trend was seen in 7
other countries during the same period. The
changes ranged from an increase of 2.4
percentage points in Kyrgyzstan to a decline of
2.0 percentage points in Azerbaijan.
Looking at financial resources from another
angle, the recommended proportion of total
government expenditure allocated to education
is 15 to 20%.2 Among Asian and Pacific
countries and territories where data are available
for 2008, most allocated 10% to 20%. Hong
Kong, China; the Islamic Republic of Iran;
Thailand; and Vanuatu allocated 20% or more
of their total budget to the education sector.
Conversely, Georgia, Japan (2007), and Nauru
(2007) allocated less than 10%. Between 2000
and 2008, a drop in education spending in
proportional terms of total Government
expenditure occurred in 11 Asian and Pacific
countries. The decline was sharpest in Azerbaijan
where the level dropped by 12 percentage
points – from 24% in 1999 to 12% of total
Government expenditure in 2008.
Figure I.40 – Public expenditure per pupil at
primary-school level as a proportion of per
capita GDP, Asia and the Pacific, earliest and
Public expenditure per student as a percentage of
per capita GDP indicates per student expenditure
relative to available resources. For primary
education, the proportion ranged from 7.2% in
Bhutan (2009) to 26% in the Maldives (2008).
Only four countries – Azerbaijan (2006), Bhutan
(2009), India (2006) and the Philippines (2007)
– spent less than 10% per student as a percentage
of per capita GDP at the primary level. The latest
available data show that most countries spent
between 10% and 20%.
At the secondary level, the share varied from
8.0% in Azerbaijan (2006) to 32% in Bhutan
For most countries, public expenditure per
student as a percentage of per capita GDP is
considerably higher for tertiary than for primary
and secondary levels, owing to the greater costs
of specialized courses, low pupil-to-teacher ratios,
more elaborate facilities such as laboratories and
other infrastructure at higher levels of education.
The highest ratio was Bhutan, with a per student
expenditure of 150% of per capita GDP, while
the lowest was Armenia at 6.8%.
Note that public expenditure per student as a
percentage of per capita GDP is dependent on
whether education is paid for by the state and the
role of private education providers; this is
especially relevant for tertiary education.
Specifically, a higher value may reflect that the
government is the major provider of education.
Caution should thus be employed when
comparing across countries. For example,
comparability is limited across different
educational arrangements such as where the state
pays private companies to deliver public
education, where school fees make up a large
proportion of household expenditure, or a mostly
public education system.
Increasing spending on education is not sufficient
to ensure success in achieving educational goals.
The quality of education is key as the end product of the system. The EFA Global
Monitoring Report 2011 has noted that
“Increased financing does not guarantee success
in education – but chronic underfinancing is
a guaranteed route to failure.”3 Beyond increases
in spending, financing calls for equity and
efficiency in distribution and utilization of
resources. In this respect, differences in pupil-toteacher
ratios within countries provide some
insight into the equity of education expenditure
country-wide and the potential quality of
learning for students.
Teachers’ salaries account for a considerable
chunk of public education expenditure. As the
number of teachers is among the main
determinants of the overall quality of education,
the pupil-to-teacher ratio provides some
indication of educational quality. In 2008, the
global average indicates that each primary-level
teacher is responsible for 25 students. In
Europe and North America, one primary school
teacher is responsible for 14 students, while the
primary-level pupil-to-teacher ratio is 41:1 for
Africa and 25:1 for Asia and the Pacific in 2008.
The pupil-to-teacher ratio for Asia and the
Pacific only changed slightly between 1999 and
2008 – from 26:1 to 25:1.
Within the Asia-Pacific region, the average pupilto-
teacher ratio for high-income countries is 19:1
while teachers in low-income countries have on
average 38 students. As subregional and regional
averages mask huge disparities between countries,
national average mask disparities within
countries. The average national primary-level
pupil-to-teacher ratios in 2008 ranged from 9:1
(Georgia) to 49:1 (Cambodia). Roughly half of
the countries where data are available have pupilto-
teacher ratios of more than 20:1. If data were
available to factor in teachers’ qualifications and
certification, it might reveal even greater
Pupil-to-teacher ratios are generally considerably
lower at the secondary level in comparison with
the primary level. Globally, the average ratio was 18:1 in 2008, ranging from 11:1 in Europe to
21:1 in Africa. The average pupil-to-teacher ratio
for Asia and the Pacific is 19:1. The lowest
national pupil-to-teacher ratio at secondary level
is 7:1 in Armenia, while the highest is in Nepal
with 41:1 in 2008.
Figure I.41 – Pupil-to-teacher ratios at primaryand secondary-school levels, Asia and the Pacific, 2008
A smaller pupil-to-teacher ratio, that would
enable teachers to pay closer attention to each
student, should result in improving the quality
of education. However, average national pupilto-
teacher ratios do not reveal the full picture of
teaching quality. A low national pupil-to-teacher
ratio does not guarantee a good quality of
education. Teacher distribution patterns, and
teachers’ skills, competencies, experience and
training, are also crucial in ensuring a high level
of educational quality.