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M.M.ANSARI
Union Budget 2019 Fails to Address Educational Crisis in India

The budgetary allocation for education sector fails to address the educational crisis, mainly improvement in quality of teaching access to traditionally deprived groups.

The entire allocation of Rs 94,853 crore, with breakup for higher education getting Rs 38,317 crore and school education Rs56,536 crore, is financed from collection of education cess.

This cess is levied on Income Taxpayers since 2004 to supplement the budget allocation to raise it to the level of 6% of gross domestic product to fulfil the oft-repeated government promises. But, the Central government is unfortunately substituting regular budgetary outlays with this Cess.

The government plans to formulate a New National Education Policy (NEP) with a view to reforming school and higher education and to overhaul the entire regulatory structures. There are however no indications as to how the government proposes to fill up vacant posts of teachers across the school to university education, provide teachers’ training and to cope with ‘skills deficits’ to improve earnings and employability of youths. These deficiencies are holding transformation of education.

While All India Status of Education Report (ASER) has demonstrated on yearly basis that learning attainments of school children are abysmally low, the Finance Minister has not made any specific mention of school education initiatives to improve quality of education, especially in rural areas.

In fact, allocation for teachers’ training and adult education has been down sized to Rs 125 crore from Rs 871 crore in the previous year, which does not augur well for schools improvements.

Some of the important elements of the proposed NEP are:

First, the National Research Foundation (NRF) to fund, coordinate and promote research and innovation will be established, for which allocation of Rs 608/ crore has been made. It is not clear if NRF will be an overarching body to regulate activities of R&D organisations functioning under the auspices of CSIR and other Institutes of National Importance or it will be a standalone intuition. Finance Minister has not clearly articulated the Policy that may lead to duplication of efforts and wastage of resources.

Second, a single higher education regulator, namely Higher Education Commission of India is proposed to be established to replace over a dozen of regulatory authorities such as University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education, Medical Council of India and many others. The idea of having a single regulator of HEIs activities is being discussed in India for over two decades but it has not been materialized for different academic and technical reasons. We may watch and see how this government does it. This could be a mere Jumla.

Third, the idea of promoting ‘World Class Institutions’ for which Rs 400 crore has been allocated, is not new. Unfortunately, no worthwhile effort has been made to fill 30 to 50 percent faculty positions that are perpetually vacant for several years in almost all IITs/IIMs and Central Universities.

The budgetary outlays for IITs is Rs 6410 crore, for IIMs Rs 445 crore and for IISERs Rs 899 crore, which are higher by 12 to 14 percent as compared to previous budget. But these allocations are not sufficient to recruit the required faculty. Shortage of faculty adversely affects both excellence in research and innovation as well as global ratings of HEIs, without which foreign students cannot be attracted to make India a higher education hub. Moreover, the much hyped PM fellowship scheme fund has bee reduced from Rs 75 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 50 crore in this budget. Clearly, the government has thus missed the opportunity of improving academic outcomes.

Fourth, the Finance Minister mentioned about an increased focus on ‘new age skills’ such as artificial intelligence, Big Data, 3D Printing and Robotics, which offer new job opportunities in the knowledge economy but did not indicate how to contain disruptions in the jobs market due to automation and AIs. The policy of strengthening education and employment connection should have been carefully calibrated and financial allocation should accordingly made to improve entrepreneurial capacities and employability of educated youths to effectively function in the modern economy.

Unfortunately, HEIs lack necessary infrastructure, including competent faculty to become centres of excellence for promoting research and innovations that are critical for ensuring competitiveness of Indian economy. Finance Minister has thus missed the opportunity of providing necessary stimulus for human capital formation and for reaping the benefits of population dividend.

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WRITER'S DETAILS


M.M.ANSARI
Former UGC Member