Building peace in the minds of men and women

UNESCO rejects findings of the 2016 UK Multilateral Development Review

01 December 2016


UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova

Paris, 1 December – UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova flatly rejected the United Kingdom’s Multilateral Development Review (MDR) for 2016 as “flawed” and called for an independent and objective oversight body to review its findings. “For the sake of accuracy and transparency, this report must undergo a thorough and professional review that objectively takes into account the steps that UNESCO has taken to address the key issues highlighted in the report.

“This report is based on a flawed methodology, which misunderstands, if not ignoring UNESCO’s policy support role, and its normative and standard setting mandate as a specialized agency of the United Nations, and which misrepresents and underestimates its achievements. I am concerned that the feedback given by UNESCO on a number of occasions has not been taken into account in the assessment and our full response will clarify this key concern,” the Director-General said.

“It is disappointing that the MDR report fails to reflect the actual benefits that the UK derives from UNESCO, representing, according to the UK National Commission, £100 million in additional revenue,” said Irina Bokova. “I sincerely hope that this report does not signal a retreat from multilateral engagement in UNESCO’s domains. We need the UK to be engaged fully with UNESCO in its role as an engine for international cooperation and peace, as a champion of freedom of expression and as a key player for multilateral engagement in education, culture and the sciences.

“As Director-General, I have been absolutely determined to sharpen the delivery of the Organization at every level. This included making the most of the financial crisis that struck UNESCO in 2011, when 33 percent of the budget was cut. In the process, we have left no stone unturned, and sought to adapt all aspects of the work, functioning and delivery of the Organization. I have welcomed the assessment of Member States, including that of the Government of the United Kingdom, and other partners, as an essential part of the reform drive,” she continued. “Innovation and reform is underway, and this will continue full-steam.”

The present assessment mirrors most if not all weaknesses of the 2011 Multilateral Aid Review (MAR) as expressed by various independent reviewers of the report such as the National Audit Office (in 2012) and two parliamentary select committees, the Public Accounts Committee and the International Development Select Committee (both in 2013) and the Oversees Development Institute (2013). These included concern that the method does not deal well with agencies that have a normative or standard-setting function; that a focus on short-term results and value-for-money may favor specialized vertical funds, like GAVI or the Global Fund, especially those that work in relatively small numbers of countries, over multi-purpose and geographically dispersed agencies, especially UN bodies and the EU; that there was insufficient coordination of reviews by different donors, resulting in overload for the agencies.

UNESCO wishes to highlight a further weakness in the process which in its view is the most serious: the lack of transparent and objective dialogue throughout the process. UNESCO can only conclude that the lack of consultative process and in-depth research in line with professional standards is one of the chief weaknesses of this latest assessment. It would thus strongly encourage an independent review of this latest MDR methodology in the spirit of transparency and accountability – as was done on the first MAR by a credible UK oversight body so as to fully understand what underpinned this assessment.

The assessment reviews UNESCO from a limited perspective and provides limited support for its conclusions. At the same time, it surprisingly misses a number of well recognized facts which had been shared with DFID but which seem to have been ignored in the ratings:

1. UNESCO’s mandate is more relevant than ever

UNESCO is not a ‘classical’ development agency – it is a specialized agency of the United Nations, mandated by States to build capacities, set new normative agendas and provide policy support to Member States to reach their goals and take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In a world of change, fostering cooperation in education, the sciences, culture, communication and information has never been so important, as ‘soft power’ pillars of more effective multilateralism, and UNESCO is delivering on these tasks, working with Governments and societies not just in the developing world, but across the globe. UNESCO has a well-recognized leadership or partnership role in many of the Sustainable Development Goal areas.

Regarding the MDRs assessment on UNESCO’s match with UK priorities index, UNESCO can point to the excellent joint work partnerships with many UK actors through its extensive network involving not only Government actors but also academia, civil society and private sector. UK representatives sit on many of UNESCO’s convention committees, act as UNESCO chairs, are associated to school networks, science committees etc. UNESCO’s relationship with the UK Government extends much beyond DFID, in line with its normative functions in five very different sectors. Yet these different partners, be them UK government institutions (e.g. secretariat of education, culture, the national commission) or civil society seem not to have been consulted as part of this exercise, gaps also pointed out for the 2011 MAR. Thus the assessment seems limited to the views and relevance to the Department for International Development (DFID).

2. UNESCO’s organizational strengths have received positive ratings from many other donors and does well in reviews by independent oversight bodies

UNESCO has been reviewed by a number of its key donors (e.g. Sweden, Netherlands, Norway, EU) as well as the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit, a system-wide oversight body. UNESCO’s record on external audit, currently ensured by the supreme audit institution of France, the Cour des Comptes, is good with over five years of unqualified IPSAS compliant financial statements and with over 65% of recommendations being fully or partially implemented. As reflected in system-wide reviews by the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit UNESCO has robust oversight systems in place and, when not already presenting good practice, has a top implementation rate of 94.5 percent for system-wide recommendations of the JIU, making it the 6th highest performance in the entire UN system.

These reports have confirmed solid performance and organizational strengths in a number of areas such as regarding results achieved, internal control frameworks, robust fraud policies, strong evaluation function, increased transparency as evidenced by its transparency portal:, etc. Organizational strengths entail also a suite of state-of-the art policies such as the one on evaluation, internal audit, anti-fraud, ethics, statement of internal controls, and many others. Regular and publicized assessments by independent evaluations and by rigorous internal and external audits provide strong accountability and assurance and meet the strictest transparency standards.

DFID’s own 2013 report that found that “Through the significant increase in implementation of evaluation and audit recommendations, the organization is demonstrating an improved evidence and performance based approach to programme management” and that “The Organization has adopted a financial disclosure policy which supplements already extensive publically available information.” UNESCO’s response in 2015 indicated further progress including the publication of IATI compliant data (through an initiative funded by the UK) and by regular reporting of the Independent Oversight Advisory Committee, the Internal Oversight Services and the Ethics Office to the Governing Bodies.

The Organization has further evolved since 2013 and, has vigorously pursued the recommendations by an independent external evaluation undertaken in 2011 through adopting a road map that has been implemented over the past five years.

Reform efforts focused on programme management, administrative support, internal control and cost efficiency measures, reforms in budget and financial management, enhancing programme support services and strengthening of governance and internal oversight. These efforts and achievements were shared in detail with DFID but seem not reflected in the assessment.

The MDR assessment’s low score as “weak” on the very same areas is therefore surprising if not lacking any credible evidence.

3. UK’s work with UNESCO provides measurable value-for-money

Bringing all this together, the 2015 report of the UK National Commission highlighted the resounding value of the Organization’s work for the people and government of the United Kingdom. The report attested that “UNESCO helped UK affiliated institutions and bodies to attract at least £100 million in additional income in one year.” This is 7 times the UK’s direct contribution to the Organization and £10 million higher than the 2013 benefit estimated by the UK National Commission for UNESCO.

The report also underlined the wider, non-financial, value of this partnership, stating that “by leveraging the UNESCO brand and collaborating with the global network, the UK’s UNESCO projects can access new programme, partnership and funding opportunities and influence key decision makers”, as well as support to UK government policy where UNESCO activity was seen to “complement a broad portfolio of UK-government and devolved administration policies”. This report testified to the fact that financial contribution of the United Kingdom in UNESCO has a multiplying effect, bringing added income and value across the board, and supporting UK interests and policies. It pointed to the depth of cooperation between the United Kingdom and UNESCO today. This ranges from World Heritage Sites carrying ‘outstanding universal value,’ from Blenheim Palace to Stonehenge – along with a wide range of Biosphere Reserves and Global Geoparks that embody a unique range of diversity. The United Kingdom counts leading members of the UNESCO Creative Cities network, including Bradford and Glasgow. UNESCO also has an extensive network of UNESCO University Chairs in institutions of higher learning across the United Kingdom.

This positive assessment was echoed in the new report by the UK National Commission on “UNESCO in Scotland” – which estimated that UNESCO projects in Scotland generated an estimated £10.8 million from April 2014 to March 2015, not including the much wider non-financial value provided by association with UNESCO.

4. UNESCO’s groundbreaking work is focusing on key issues essential for Agenda 2030 – issues tackled by few other international organizations

With the United Kingdom, UNESCO is acting on the frontlines of change across the world today. This includes groundbreaking work to advance education to prevent the rise of violent extremism and counter youth radicalization – as well as all-out efforts to foster new forms of intercultural and inter-faith dialogue, to deepen tolerance and learning to live together. Our mandate is aligned with the priorities of the United Kingdom, and include defending freedom of expression and enhancing the safety of journalists, essential to democracy, to protecting humanity’s cultural heritage in conflict situations. Educating and empowering girls and young women is a UNESCO priority, and a driver for more inclusive and sustainable development everywhere. This includes also UNESCO leadership in deepening science cooperation, to harness science, technology and innovation for every country, and advance ocean sustainability, vital for tackling the consequences of climate change.

Finally, we wish to bring to your attention that the DFID MDR Summary provided does not correctly represent DFID funding to UNESCO. Contrary to the statement and the graph, the total amount of UK assessed contributions for 2015 of $ 17 641 217 were received, in advance, in December 2014.

In this light, UNESCO expresses a deep disagreement with the methodology used by DFID in this report and its conclusions. At a time when UNESCO’s mandate has never been so urgent – standing at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development -- UNESCO is determined to further engage with its Member States, including the UK, to anchor the values of peace and dialogue in societies across the world through education, sciences, culture, and information and communication.

The full response by UNESCO to the UK’s 2016 Multilateral Development Review will be posted shortly on the DFID and the UNESCO websites.