The Union Budget announced today does not have the best of tidings for the Education sector. A few good projects, a little more money but no real will. Money, because the Department of School Education and Literacy has been bestowed with an allocation of Rs 43,554 crore this year as compared to Rs 42,186 crore in 2015-16. While the Department of Higher Education has been granted Rs 28,840 crore for the year 2016-17 as compared to 25,399 crore last year.
The biggest ‘creation’ so to speak, for this year has been the setting up of the Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) with a corpus of Rs 1,000 crore, for education financing. At the onset, the plans looks grand but if the primary job is to finance, the money may be just peanuts.
Experts believe that the HEFA will actually do little else than to help in the education loan domain. Already banks are reeling under the pressure of bad loans that cumulatively stand at Rs 4 lakh crore. Of this, education bad loans form a generous part. Whether this measly Rs 1,000 crores will do anything to alleviate the burden of bad education loans is debatable.
10 PLUS 10
May be, a slightly happier announcement would be enabling regulatory architecture to 10 public and 10 private institutions to emerge as world-class teaching institutions. Which chosen 20 is yet to be known, since academicians were clueless, when asked today. But, what is of consequence is that, possibly for the first time, the government has recognised the need to support private educational institutions in its budget outlay.
For years, successive Indian governments have ruled with the notion that private players can never build colleges of repute – those like the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian Institutes of Technology.
With this announcement, genuine private players who often find themselves at the wrong end of the stick because they are not sarkari, can take a breather. But since the 20 names are not yet announced, it would be interesting to see which they’d be – let’s not forget that for very many politicians, setting up colleges and universities is extremely good pocket money.
SKILLS OF COURSE,
Close on the heels of Narendra Modi’s perpetual insistence in all his speeches that skill development be given a fillip, this budget has made a provision of Rs 1,700 crore for building 1,500 multi skill training institutes. In addition, 10 million youth will also be provided skill training under Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna (PMKVY) during 2016-19. A Digital Literacy Scheme has also been announced in the budget, to cover 60 million additional households.
All this is fine since it seeks to narrow down the disparity between skills and theoretical education, which is such a done and accepted malady in India. But how many of these flashy new ideas will ensure that MBA institutes and engineering colleges do not close down for lack of students – a ritual year after year. Or impart some good global skills to lakhs of engineering students who graduate only to find themselves ‘unemployable.’
Or take the case of thousands of management students, who after taking huge study loans realise the ROI is but a pittance.
Unlikely, that the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna will tackle these issues. Same with the Digital Literacy Scheme. When so many schools in India do not have even basic infrastructure like classroom walls, approach roads, toilets, black boards – how digitally their lot will improve is a million dollar question.
Ironic, that while India appears to be going out of its way to front its ‘global’ disposition to the world, education as a sector, does not get the largest share of booty in the budget.
OLD IS NOT GOLD
What in the world will happen to already started and established schemes like the Right To Education and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which have been totally ignored in the budget. Would have made sense to allocate some funds to strengthen the older projects. Thankfully, this year there have been no announcement of new IITs – so many sprung up at every nook in the country last year. Most functioning in borrowed buildings with shameful infrastructure and a ‘handful’ of students.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS THE BUZZ WORD
Given that the toast of the day is Entrepreneurship, this budget appears to be doing its bit. Sensing the trend so vividly seen among IITs and IIMs, as other private institutions, Rs.500 crore has been kept aside for promoting entrepreneurship among SC/ST.
Entrepreneurship training is expected to be provided across schools, colleges and massive online courses as well. Add to it, the Digital Literacy scheme for rural households.
That ‘technology’ is getting its due, can be estimated in the fact that digital and online programmes are being given a push. But then, these are all plans, let’s see, as the year rolls on, how much of technology India can really embrace.
Because technology is mostly, still, a very ‘urban’ coffee shop and board room point of discussion in India,. Smart phones may have made their way to Indian villages and cities, smart thinking seems to be years away. Female foeticide, honour killings, child abuse, child marriages – education is the only way to stop the menace – with or without technology.