This year’s Union Budget holds a special significance, that of developing positive sentiments among corporates and households, post the demonetisation. India, which has almost 41% of population below the age of 20 years, can reap the demographic dividend only if that 41% gets proper education.
In the last year’s Budget, finance minister Arun Jaitley had marginally reduced overall allocations towards education, but had increased the planned higher education budget by nearly 22%, which meant a shift in focus from school to higher education in the Union Budget. (The education budget in 2016-17 focused on higher education, skill development and infrastructure; Rs 43,554 crore was allocated to school education and literacy, and Rs 28,840 crore went to higher education.)
In spite of big expansion during the last two decades, the Indian higher education sector is facing a variety of challenges at almost all levels. There is a scope to further elevate the education system by introducing skill enhancement and talent recognition among students for better career opportunities. Currently, there are 330 state universities and 35,829 colleges, which account for more than 90% of total enrolment in higher education. Importantly, budgetary allocations to encourage regional level institutes to adopt latest learning technologies for students will be a welcome step.
Further, higher education plans of state governments must be allocated more funds. This can lead to academics reforms, better governance and infrastructural upgrade. Incentives can be offered to state universities for raising their own funds through upward revision in tuition fees and other legitimate means.
Apart from supporting and strengthening the infrastructure in the educational sector, a major boost is needed in online and digital education, and relaxation in service tax on inputs will provide a growth model for the economy.
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Indian school education needs to match global standards. It is expected that the World Class Institute initiative will be implemented and the scope of the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) will be widened.
(The World Class Institute initiative aims to provide an enabling environment to 10 public and 10 private institutions to emerge as world-class teaching and research bodies.)
In addition, affordable loans for infrastructure, research and development requirements, digitisation of classrooms, changed pedagogy of teaching by faculty, and more funding for the Prime Minister’s Fellowship Scheme is most desired. In the aftermath of demonetisation, light must be thrown on the shape of virtual payments in education space.
Such a liberalisation of the education sector will give a fillip to Make-in-India, Digital India and Skill India campaigns. In fact, with the Prime Minister’s emphasis on Education for All and Digital India, it can be expected that digital education will receive major support from the Budget. Digitisation and virtual blended education enhances the delivery and quality of education.
The ministry of human resource development had earlier launched the Study Webs of Active-learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM)—a web portal where Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are available on all subjects.
An inclusive economy via digital manufacturing in various sectors would supplement Make-in-India if sufficient incentives are offered in R&D policy in the build-up of manufacturing base in India with a trained workforce. The expectations are high in light of the requirements of the education sector, and the curtain will be shortly unveiled.
The author, Deepak Tandon is area head, Finance and Accounting, IMI New Delhi. Views are personal