Mon, 15 Jul, 2019

Budget 2019-20 and the education sector

This year’s Union budget allocation for the educational sector may have a lot of good news, but it also has a lot of shortcomings

Story: Dr | 11th July 2019, 03:34 Hrs

Dr  Manasvi M. Kamat

The budgetary expenditure on health and education is a critical indicator of the commitment towards social infrastructure. Among the two critical elements of social infrastructure, education sector has always been languishing for funds due to twining problems. On one hand there is an issue of funds with insufficient allocation, and more serious is the problem that the educational leaders have always failed to effectively utilise the funds made available to them.   

It is found that the spending on education sector in India as a percentage of GDP has reduced over the recent years, and has historically been below 3 percent. This is against the Kothari Commission’s recommendation in 1965 that educational expenditure must amount to 6 percent of the GDP on the other hand the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), failed to spend over Rs 4 lakh crore made available to them from 2014-15 to 2018-19. Thus we always fell short of meeting the budgetary targets. Successive governments in India irrespective of the party affiliations have been constantly unable to utilise the funds ranging from 1.6 percent to 17 percent of their allocations during 2009-10 to 2018-19. 

The Finance Minister (FM) announced the allocation of Rs 94,854 crore to the education sector in the Budget 2019-20. Earlier the interim budget saw a budgetary allocation of Rs 93,847.64 while in the last year the allocation was to the tune of Rs 83,626 crore. Compared to the interim budget, this budget has received 10 percent higher allocation. 

The allocation for school education went up by 12.8 percent and the higher education by 14.3 percent compared to the last year. 

The figures from the expenditure budget documents for 2019-20 show that areas like research, innovation and salaries of teachers have been given a fillip through additional allocation of funds. 

The major cause of the upward revision has been a 326 percent increase in the allocation for improvement in salary scale of college and university teachers due to the VII pay commission revisions. 

This budget has given a major impetus to research, new institutions, institutional reforms and quality education. The proposal to replace the UGC by a new body Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will now soon be a reality. Last year in June, the central government had announced its plans to establish it and a draft copy ‘Repeal of University Grants Commission Act Bill, 2018’ was released. 

The FM also spoke about introducing the National Education Policy in the budget speech with an aim to transform India’s higher education system to one of the global best education systems. The NEP is soon expected to pave a way for revamping three-year Bachelor courses to four-year courses and will discontinue the MPhil degree in the country. 

It is hearty to note that the allocation for research and innovation has been increased by 150 percent to Rs 608.87 crore. The top Institutes like the IIT’s and the IIM’s have seen a 12.2 percent hike and a 20 percent hike in funding respectively while an additional amount of Rs 400 crore is dedicated to developing ‘world-class’ higher education institutes. 

There is a whopping 47 percent rise in the Technical Education Quality Improvement Program (TEQIP) and research has been given a new boost with a total of Rs 608.87 crore allocated under the head ‘Research and Innovation’ with a huge increase from the amount of Rs 243.60 crore estimated to be spent in 2018-19. 

The budget has also proposed creation of a new authority called the National Research Foundation (NRF). With access to research funds from all Government schemes this foundation is expected to help finance, coordinate, and promote research in the country at the college-level. 

As usual the Department of School Education and Literacy received a higher share (58 percent) in the total kitty of allocation to education worth Rs. 56,536 crore. 

The total Budget for Children witnessed an incremental increase compared to last year, from 3.24 percent as per the Budgeted Estimates (BE) to 3.29 percent BE. There are also been hikes in other programmes like the Midday Meal Scheme by 11 percent. The NEP when introduced will extend the RTE ambit to secondary education, a move that could ensure compulsory education for children till the age of 18 from the existing age of 14. 

The proposal to set up 80 business incubators for livelihood and 20 for technology-based skill development with an aim to develop 75,000 skilled new entrepreneurs is a step in the right direction. 

The government wants India to be a hub for artificial intelligence related startups and towards achieving this  it is also delightful to note the greater emphasis being accorded to training people on advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, 3-D Printing, and Virtual Reality under the Prime Minister’s Kaushal Yojana. 

‘National Institute for Artificial Intelligence’ (NIAI) is proposed to be setup to help Indian IT industries lead in the AI race. This institute will conduct various programs on artificial intelligence. A push to this segment in the IT services category is expected to create a lot of jobs. 

The budget for the education sector however has a lot of shortcomings. Firstly, it seems that the Samagra Shiksha Scheme with an allocation of Rs 36,322 crore would fall short of the current education requirements. 

Similarly there could have been more emphasis on leveraging more of CSR funds in education to cover insufficient budgetary allocations. 

Thirdly, some of the schemes announced seem to be re-packaged while there are fewer details about the implementation of some proposals like HECI, NIAI, NRF, and the NEP. Fourth, though the school budget got a major allocation its focus lacks precision. 

More seriously the budget show no willingness to neither bring in foreign funding and expertise in education nor solves the urgent problems of lower enrolment in higher education, and poor learning outcomes.

Overall the budget allocation for education has more news to cheer. The focus is on the youth of the country and education as the tool for development. The commitment to bring in the NEP and make sweeping changes in how education is imparted with the focus on learning outcomes is dynamically visible. 

The government’s plan to re-energize the education sector through this budget is a welcome step in the right direction.

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