The fourth Union Budget of the current NDA government has once again kept the legacy of contractionary fiscal policies continuing. Overall, the size of the Budget has come down from 13.4% of GDP last year (revised estimates) to 12.7% this year. Further, key sectors like the railways, health and education have not received any credible disbursements.
Although education can help make the dream of digitalisation come true—besides keeping the trinity of JAM (Jan-Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile) going—yet the sector has failed to attract the required focus and assistance.
Announcements like the establishment of a National Testing Agency, restructuring of the University Grants Commission (UGC), introduction of online courses, focused dissemination of science education, setting up of new AIIMS, creation of an innovation fund, and building and strengthening of SWAYAM and SANKALP have been made with much fanfare, still the efforts have fallen drastically short to reach the milestone of allocation of 6% of GDP towards education, as recommended by Kothari Commission in 1966.
Further, in the absence of a clear roadmap regarding the levels at which online courses will be offered to students, medium of instruction, arrangement of physical infrastructure, etc, their credibility stands doubtful. Pertinently, entrepreneurship training schools and colleges, along with massive online courses, which were announced in the previous Budget, are still waiting to see the light of day.
To the extent the experimentation regarding the constitution of National Testing Agency or restructuring of UGC is concerned, it would have been better if finance minister Arun Jaitley had tested the synergising of efforts of different organisations involved in skill development. There are nearly 20 government bodies, including NSDC, HRD ministry, ministry of labour and employment, Labour Market Information System (LMIS), and ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship (MSDE), running different skill development programmes, but without any coordinated policy. There is so much confusion that even today we don’t have any unified definition of ‘skill’. No doubt, development of skills is perceived to be a mechanism to counter fourth-generation automation, yet it calls for the fixation of accountability. Last year, a provision of Rs 1,700 crore was made towards multi-skill centres, the progress towards which was missing in this Budget speech.
Unauthentic claims state the skilling of 34 million workers, but in the absence of gainful employment opportunities in the past few years, they might sound as good as skillful unemployed.
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The half-hearted efforts towards higher education including increasing of 5,000 seats in medical colleges without any additional allocation of funds seem to be a cruel joke with the demographic dividend. In the absence of a coordinated effort in terms of willpower and limited resources, the fear of demographic dividend turning into demographic disaster looms large.
RS Bawa is vice-chancellor, Chandigarh University. Rajiv Khosla is head, University School of Business, Chandigarh University. Views are personal