Higher education in India: has education budget been going down?

Energy-Egineering-SpecialisationHere is a close look at the union education budget. This year there is an evident shift towards skill development and job creation. Dr. S S Mantha, former Chairman, AICTE in a conversation with Careers360 shares his views on Budget allocation for 2017-18 and enhancing the quality of education. Read below the complete article.

India, at 1.3 bn, is the second most populated country in the world, and could soon surpass China to become the first major democracy in history, with over 1.5 bn people – in fact, as early as 2022. Breaking down the statistics reveals that more than 60% of India’s population is below the age of 35 and by 2020, the average age of an Indian will be about 29 years – compared to 37 in China and 48 in Japan.

 

A systematic breakup of statistics about growing populations world-wide will always throw up three basic questions: Are we prepared to house, clothe or govern as many people? Are we prepared to educate and create employment for as many people? Do we know what we’re getting ourselves into?

 

Need for immediate steps

While possibilities and solutions are endless, they all need careful analysis and best-fit planning – but most importantly, a detailed master plan, several back-up plans and a precise approach for every path taken. And since a majority of this population explosion is expected to impact 2020–2025, we need to start taking formal steps immediately. This thought sets the tone to the recently concluded Union Budget 2017 announcement. Hailed as ‘Transform, Energise and Clean India (TEC India), it aims to strike the right balance between quality governance and quality life. Of the several distinct themes to foster this broad agenda, while it is very gratifying to see the importance laid on rural population, infrastructure building, employment schemes, security, affordable housing and strengthening the digital economy for speed, accountability and transparency – education as a broad agenda lacks several quality schemes and dedications. Albeit the union education budget has been increasing in allocations every year, the evident shift and bent is towards skill development and job creation.

 

Funding of education

Education in India is provided by the Government and the private sector. Several economists and academicians at various times have argued that public funding for primary and secondary education needs to be supported by the Government or by the public funds. However, with the current ratio of public schools to private schools at 7:5, it needs to be revisited if “basic education to all” has to become a reality. The enrolment rate has also seen an increase but is still a long way off on higher education where the GER still hovers around 22 when the targets were around 30. We seem to have broken the jinx on primary education with more than 96% GER achieved but the secondary education leaves a lot to be desired. The GER in secondary education falls from a healthy 96% at the primary level to 67%. Unavailability of secondary schools is a major factor that results in this predicament. The last year’s budget ensures rightly so, a Senior Secondary School within 5 km reach of every child, while improving quality of education and learning outcomes.

 

Enhancing quality of education

The Government of India since 2014 and through 2017 has been allocating funds for setting up new IIM’s and some postgraduate institutions in the higher education sector, enhancing scholarships and providing loans for funding education. 1,650 crores allocated in 2013-14 for six AIIMS-like institutions also may bring a lot more people near better health facilities. The 500 crores provided in 2014-15 for setting up 5 more IITs in Jammu, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala indicates a positive dispensation to higher education. And while the expenditure on education was 3.3% of the GDP in 2013-14, the budgetary allocations have been increasing over the next couple of budgets - with 1.4 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 still out of school in India (UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report), the Government’s higher allocations are certainly laudable. 

 

Major schemes undertaken by the Government of India in the education sector like the SSA, RMSA, Mid-Day Meal scheme and focus on Teacher Training Institutions deserves mention. RMSA has seen an increase of more than a 1000 Cr over the previous years. While all the concerned areas have seen a rise in budget allocations, the Mid-day meals scheme requires more attention since children tend to drop out of schools as they cannot afford a meal.

 

Focus on inputs and infrastructure

The focus of education-led expenditures continues to be on inputs and infrastructure. The School Assessment Programmes for monitoring the performance of schools is an initiative under the new budget that might shift the focus to learning outcomes and efficiency. It would be more beneficial to the system if this had seen higher allocations in the current budget. Bertrand Russell once said “It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves great results. The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young”.

 

The real shift in the current budget allocation however, is recognising that education and health have a lot in common. A nation’s health is judged on how its social sectors represent the value proposition. That being said, the combined allocation of INR 1,51,581 crores will have to be judged from the way it is spent.

 

Budget allocation 2017-18

This year’s budget allocation has also showcased the Skill Development budget - that started with a modest 500 crores in 2011-12, now sees a separate head of funding going up to 1804 crores along with setting up a record 1500 Multi Skill Training Institutes. What started as an experiment to promote entrepreneurship and skill based employment, has now resulted in this year’s allocations recognising ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Start-up India’, ‘Digital India’ and ‘Stand Up India’ as the five cardinal points of a pentagon that binds India. A great emphasis seems to have been put on integrating them through allocations in different sectors such as, Education, Health, Infrastructure, Railways, Defence and Manufacturing.

 

Demographic benefits

With most of the developing economies having a sizeable ageing population leaving behind a wide gap of opportunities as they move out of the workforce, Indians should be potential front-runners filling the gap. According to a recent newspaper report these numbers in the coming few years are as large as 8 million in Japan, 17 million in USA and almost 4 percent of the entire European population base. And should India ignore this, we stand to lose these opportunities to China, Sri Lanka and other fast growing Asian economies.

 

It would be good to see the Government investing on setting up institutes following the Fraunhofer Model – where the society (the Private-Public Setup Society model) earns about 70% of its income through contracts with industry or specific government projects and the other 30% of the budget is sourced in the proportion 9:1 from federal and state (Land) government grants and is used to support preparatory research. Thus, the size of the society’s budget would depend largely on maximizing revenue from commissions. This funding model applies not just to the central society itself but also to the individual institutes, serving both to drive the realisation of the Fraunhofer Society’s strategic direction of becoming a leader in applied research as well as encouraging a flexible, autonomous and entrepreneurial approach to the society’s research priorities.

 

Further, a basic beginning with Max Planck like institutes in India would have paved the way for better skilled and research based thinkers in India. According to its primary goal, the Max Planck Society supports fundamental research in the natural, life and social sciences, the arts and humanities in its 83 Max Planck Institutes that focus on excellence in research. While these institutes operate independently from, though in close cooperation with, the universities, they focus on innovative research which does not fit into the university structure due to their interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary nature or which require resources that cannot be met by the state universities.

 

It can be seen that lifelong learning, virtual learning or blended/hybrid learning is transforming many lives today. Content available across the best global Universities can be streamed both in online and offline mode. The thrust on SWAYAM is expected to lead the country in this direction.

 

Measuring annual learning outcomes: Fund for Secondary Education

The budget thus recognising this situation has introduced a system of measuring annual learning outcomes in schools and provided for an ‘Innovation Fund for Secondary Education’ which proposes to encourage local innovation. This is expected to ensure universal access, gender parity and quality improvement. Moreover, the same to be introduced in 3479 educationally backward districts is a right step forward – but there is a need to expand this across all districts in the country. Though it appears that the budget has seen a marginal rise in some sectors, the allocation has also been going down especially in the higher education space. Coupled with demographics shifting to the young, this may not provide dividends for the future.

 

In the words of Bill Owens, ‘we know that, when it comes to technology and the economy, if you’re not constantly moving forward, then - without a doubt - you’re moving backwards.’ And at a time when the government has to write a new chapter in India’s growth and future, by creating a sanctioned charter for the citizens, addressing their needs and carefully enforcing duties - to keep the momentum going, citizens also need to wholly participate in legitimate wealth creation and upholding their moral responsibilities.

 

As the baton has been passed over to the next generation, it is important to note, that with great power, comes great responsibility.

 

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