On the Union Budget proposals for education and skill development sectors
For education, skilling and job creation, the Budget 2017 has allocated Rs 79,686 crore, which, in my opinion, is reasonable, considering that every Budget exercise is a delicate balancing act for the finance minister.
Utilising funds efficiently for improving education, vocational training, and skills development is what is needed at this point. Not just the effective management of the allocated funds, revamping existing schemes such as SSA, programmes related to strengthening of teachers and Mid-Day Meal scheme are also necessary. Such steps would help the country meet the Sustainable Development Goals.
On higher education
The government had earlier set up the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) with a capital base of Rs 1,000 crore. HEFA will also leverage funds from the market, CSR funds from corporates as well as donations. These funds obtained through internal accruals are envisaged to finance improvement in infrastructure in our top institutions. The flip-side is whether the corporate sector will view it as a favourable CSR activity or not? However, on an optimistic note, the fund will help the financing banks that have been suffering on account of education loan NPAs. The current outstanding education loans may be around Rs 50,000 crore. It is not clear how the fund will resolve the massive requirements of educational loans. The answer could lie in properly leveraging the fund.
On placements, job creation
The impetus towards placements and job creation, and setting up of model career centres, are good decisions. In my opinion, there needs to be a system to put in place a mentor institute—which has already achieved the status of Centre of Excellence—to guide regional implementing smaller institutes/NGOs that impart such skills training. This would help raise the employability quotient of the trained youth.
On why allocation towards education is still less than 6% of GDP
Yes, the outlay of Rs 79,686 crore is less than 6% of GDP. The sector needs 6-8% of GDP allocation, bearing in mind the cumulative gaps in successive Budgets since the Kothari Commission had recommended 6% of GDP for education. At the same time, for a nation which is riding on the wave of economic growth and has to increase allocation to defence and other priority sectors, even Rs 79,686 crore appears good. However, to translate intent into success, we need a detailed blueprint and appropriate agencies for implementation.
On the establishment of a National Testing Agency
Having a separate agency on the lines of Educational Testing Service (ETS) to conduct all the exams in the higher education space is a welcome step, as it will provide relief to the CBSE and other agencies. Releasing these agencies from administration work involved in conducting exams will provide them with ample amount of time to devote and provide strategic direction for quality education.
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On restructuring University Grants Commission (UGC)
Restructuring the UGC, no doubt, will give a boost to promote quality education. The system of affiliating large number of institutes to a single university is a time-consuming process and, thus, has been a hurdle in the higher education system. Having close to 500 universities in India and making them self-sufficient both financially and academically will be a great step. The fundamental value proposition of equity, access, excellence on which our education policy rests will hopefully be realised through budgetary allocations.
—As told to Vikram Chaudhary