Author: Shashwati Ghosh, Senior Fellow, YES Global Institute
A ‘holistic treatment of education’ and ‘educating the educators’ are the two most important phrases that the budget 2018 mentioned as a booster to the social sector. For the GDP growth of a country to be relevant for the below poverty line population and the poor people, changes is social sectors are the most relevant changes, as investment in education and health has the power to push these families into the mainstream economic activity with time.
Giving a strong push to rectify the quality of education which had become a sore issue despite increase in enrollment rate, budget has looked into the education of teachers. According to Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), students in age group 14-18 demonstrated lack of basic skills despite many years of schooling behind them. The budget has also tried to streamline the financial allocation to education thus making it more transparent.
A two pronged strategy has been announced in integrating the sector: financially and structurally. Structurally, the school education sector will be looked at holistically by combining pre-school to class 12—implying merger of several school schemes in the near future like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and teacher education policy. As of now, SSA and RMSA have a joint mandate to make school education universal. Also the ‘Integrated BEd’ program will be comprehensively done for all teachers bringing the training as the main focus. The new programme ‘Diksha’ is expected to train 13 lakh untrained teachers. On tribal education, the government has announced that by 2022, every block with more than 50 per cent ST population, will have ‘Eklavya’ schools at par with ‘Navodaya Vidyalayas’.
Financially, FM Jaitley unveiled a new scheme called Revitalizing Infrastructure in School Education or RISE, which should not only focus on school’s brick & mortar infrastructure but also on digital infrastructure. India has around 1.5 million schools catering to over 250 million students. Around 80% of these schools are with the central and state governments.
The RISE scheme will be financed via a restructured higher education financing agency (HEFA). HEFA is already functioning for the last two months as a non-banking financial company (NBFC). It aims to lend low-cost funds to government higher educational institutions. It will be restructured to cater to the school sector as well.
In a way, the move will put in place a system where schools and colleges will be borrowing from a dedicated organization instead of depending on grant money for each of their expenses. This move may improve fiscal accountability in government education institutions.
Higher Studies & Research
Budget 2018 has allocated Rs. 1 lakh crore to be invested over the next 4 years for a new drive to boost Research and Development. The Finance Minister announced the launch of Prime Minister’s Research Fellow Scheme that will identify 1000 B Tech students to do Ph D at IITs and other prestigious institutes.
In terms of additional higher education capacity, the government announced the setting up of 24 new medical colleges and hospitals by upgrading district-level ones. The finance minister claimed that this will provide at least one medical college for three parliamentary constituencies and one Government College in every state.
As the focus on Smart cities, smart tech and sustainability increases, Government announced two new schools of planning and architecture to be set up including 18 more within the IIT and NIIT campuses. Bringing skilling within the purview of education, the budget announced setting up of special Railway University at Vadodara, Gujarat.
Strengthening Social Sectors
At a recent event organized by NITI Aayog, as high as 20% of India’s youth were classified as NEET’s (Not in Education, Employment or training). As the finance minister rightly pointed out if we have to take advantage of our young population, we cannot ignore skilling.
While there has been a focus on education in the Budget 2018, the amount of allocation to this very important sector has been miniscule with the Minister announcing an overall allocation of Rs 1.38 lakh crore for 2018-19 from Rs 1.22 lakh crore in current fiscal on health, education and social security combined. However, structural changes and focus on quality is expected to bring in inclusive results in medium to long term.
The recently announced Prime Minister Saubhagya Yojana at a cost of INR 16000 crore and other measures of ensuring rural households to have electricity will help in increasing the role of technology in rural areas. Quality knowledge can be disseminated throughout the country with the aim of garnering the best and brightest minds to shape the future of India.