Australian SDGs Hub For Business


Education is a fundamental human right and a tool that enables people to free themselves from poverty and inequality. Inclusive, quality education will help make other Sustainable Development Goals achievable by 2030.

Worldwide, school attendance rates have improved. The primary school enrolments rate climbed to an estimated 93% in 2015, from 84% in 1999.1  Secondary school enrolment rates also increased over that period, with developing countries making the biggest gains.

Still, some 124 million children and young adolescents are estimated to be out of school worldwide, and more than half of all out-of-school children live in just 19 developing countries, including several affected by conflict.1 Across developing and developed countries, there are disparities in the enrolment, completion rates and educational achievements for children with disabilities and children from ethnic or linguistic minorities.1

By global standards, Australia ranks highly on educational outcomes, but there is a big disparity between outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. This is partly explained by differences in school attendance rates, which for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was almost 10 percentage points lower than the comparable rate for non-Indigenous students in 2016 (83.4% Vs 93.1%). In very remote areas the gap was a much wider 24.7 percentage points.2


How is this relevant to business?

Education is a public good. It unlocks human potential, building an individual’s capacity to participate in social, economic, political and cultural life.

A literate and educated society is key to a productive workforce, capable of entrepreneurial success, innovation, technological improvement and development of sustainable solutions to business challenges. What is more, education helps develop more stable and prosperous societies, which in turn represent more sustainable markets.3

To remain viable, businesses need to attract and retain staff who create value and deliver a competitive advantage. In an increasingly technologically-focused world, workers will need new and higher level skills. In particular, science, technology, engineering and mathematics are regarded as vital for the future.


What can business do?

SDG 4 encompasses education throughout life, including access to training for youth and adults.4

Businesses that fail to offer on-the-job training or opportunities, improperly use apprenticeship and internship programs or are unwilling to engage with learning institutions are falling short of the aspirations encompassed by Goal 4. They also stunt their own prospects and gift an advantage to competitors.

Business can partner with educational institutions at all levels and in many different ways. They can offer financial support for teaching resources and facilities, provide on-the-job work experience for older students, sponsor prizes, allow staff members to mentor students and possibly assist in classrooms.

Act Responsibly

  • Identify any ways that the business might undermine access to education and think broadly in doing so (e.g. the presence of child labour in supply chains; structuring employee training and professional development opportunities so that they are equally accessible to women and men)
  • Ensure training opportunities are equally accessible to women and men
  • Pay tax fairly (recognising that education is often government funded)

Find Opportunity

  • Invest in and maintain a learning and development model for employees
  • Promote and invest in education including STEM (i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) for girls, boys, women and men to secure access to employees with skill sets which meet future business needs in countries of operation (e.g. engineers, technology experts and data analysts)
  • Review business needs and evaluate what skills are required, where to find the people who have those skills and invest in education to ensure the skills are in place in collaboration with governments and academic institutions
  • Collaborate with other companies and educational institutions to provide vocational training to develop a diverse talent pipeline (men and women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous persons, and racial and ethnic minorities) e.g. Join the UN Business Action Hub to discuss, share information and take action to advance the SDGs.
  • Provide training to local suppliers and service providers to increase the quality and sustainability of their operations
  • Join The Global Business Coalition for Education. This brings the business community together to accelerate progress in delivering quality education to every child.


Links between Goal 4 and the UN Global Compact’s ten principles

Human Rights & Labour (UN Global Compact Principles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Education is a universally recognised human right, and one that is regarded as essential for the exercise of other human rights. Accordingly, businesses have a responsibility to respect the right to education. This also links with child labour, for no child should miss out on an education because they are working.

“In our world, knowledge is power, and education empowers. It is an indispensable part of the development equation. It has intrinsic value – extending far beyond the economic – to empower people to determine their own destiny. That is why the opportunity to be educated is central to advancing human development.” Helen Clark, United Nations Development Programme Administrator (April 2009 to April 2017)

Environment (UN Global Compact Principles 7, 8, 9)
Education is critical to an appreciation of the world’s precious natural resources, the delicate balance within ecosystems and the need to protect these into the future.

Education is in turn a resource for the environment, as human ingenuity is put to work developing solutions to environmental threats, most strikingly climate change. Such a problem demands innovation, creativity and the ability to communicate, persuade and mobilise.

Anti-Corruption (UN Global Compact Principle 10)
Corruption in education can include stolen resources from educational institutions through to the selling of places at universities and the awarding of higher grades in return for payment. In these various ways, corruption steals from society, either by undermining the capacity of institutions to teach or by favouring those who can pay.

1 United Nations (2016),

2 Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2017),

3 PwC (2016),

4 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,


By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education

By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university

By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations

By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries

By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States



The UN Global Compact’s The Smartest Investment: A Framework for Business Engagement in Education guides engagement by business to create education and learning opportunities for children, youth and adults. Provides a framework to help companies identify the business case and develop engagement activities in a responsible manner.

The UN Global Compact and partners developed a note on Investing in Youth Entrepreneurship and Employment calling on business to promote entrepreneurship among young people and to support and invest in youth-owned enterprises.

The Global Business Coalition for Education and UN Global Compact developed Investing in Education: Lessons from the Business Community to provide examples of business taking action on education.

For more goal-related tools, go to the Inventory of Business Tools webpage on the SDG Compass website. Businesses can explore and find commonly used tools when assessing their impact on SDGs.