Press Release

Universal Education is Achievable and Affordable, Academy Study Concludes


CAMBRIDGE, MA, May 26, 2005 – Universal, high-quality primary and secondary education is achievable – and well within the ability of wealthy nations to fund – by the middle of the 21st century. But at the current rate of progress, the international commitment to universal primary education by 2015 will not be met, according the Joel E. Cohen and David E. Bloom, co-directors of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ project on Universal Basic and Secondary Education (UBASE). They find that by 2015, roughly 118 million children – most in the world’s poorest countries – will still not be enrolled in primary school and almost twice that number will still not receive a secondary education.

An essay by Cohen and Bloom based on their Academy-sponsored work is the lead article in the June issue of the quarterly Finance & Development, published by the International Monetary Fund, which focuses on education ( Cohen is professor of populations at Rockefeller and Columbia Universities. Bloom is professor of economics and demography at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The cost of primary and secondary school education for all children by 2015 will range from $23 billion to $69 billion – “a huge amount of money, but certainly not beyond the ability of the world to fund,” according to the authors. “Asking for more money may not succeed without evidence of greatly improved educational effectiveness of school systems,” Cohen and Bloom write. “Educational reform and funding may go together.”

Universal primary education has long been advocated in international forums, but Cohen and Bloom contend that secondary education must also be universally available. They note that many benefits of education do not accrue until students have had 10 years or more of schooling and that “primary education is more attractive if high-quality secondary education beckons.”

According to the authors, five changes are essential to achieve universal primary and secondary education by mid-century:

  • Open discussions, nationally, regionally and internationally, on what people want primary and secondary education to achieve – that is, the goals of education;

  • A commitment to improving the effectiveness and economic efficiency of education;

  • A commitment to extending high-quality secondary education to all children;

  • Recognition of the diverse character of educational systems in different countries, and adaptation of aid policies and educational assessment requirements to local contexts;

  • More funding from rich countries for education in poor countries.

The American Academy’s UBASE project explores the rationale, means, and consequences of providing high-quality education to all children between the ages of 6 and 16. The Academy is publishing a series of multidisciplinary studies on topics including: basic facts and data on educational expansion; history of educational development; consequences of attaining universal education; means and technologies of educational expansion; goals and assessment of universal education; political and other obstacles to educational reform; costs of universal education; and health and education.

The Academy’s UBASE project is supported by a major grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and a small number of individual donors. More information on the project can be found online.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on: science and global security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education. With headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world. (




Universal Basic and Secondary Education

Joel E. Cohen and David E. Bloom