Union Budget 2023: Readying our students for the Amrit Kaal | The Financial Express

Union Budget 2023: Readying our students for the Amrit Kaal

Budget 2023 : A special package for those severely impacted by Covid-19, for mental health, digital university, skills universities and vocational education is needed

Union Budget, Union Budget 2023
Around 250 million students were affected due to school closures during Covid-19. (IE)

By Narayanan Ramaswamy

Union Budget: The education sector is going through significant changes, and the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has given it much-needed acceleration. Given that we are already into the ‘youth bulge’ and could be peaking soon, we must equip the youth to be more productive and contribute to the growth of the country.

In that context, there is a lot of expectation that the Union Budget FY24 will have significant allocations for education and skill development. For the first time, the allocation for education had crossed Rs 1 lakh crore in last year’s Budget—which is very good, but way below the 6% aspiration as set out in the NEP. Will we see higher allocation? If so, what could be those areas?

Address learning gaps

Around 250 million students were affected due to school closures during Covid-19. This left a huge learning gap in children—particularly from rural and underprivileged backgrounds—who did not have access to digital education. Research suggests there are learning gaps even in those who had access to online education, but significant in those who had been away from schools for two years. If this is not addressed, it will impact learning outcomes of these children, especially when they move to higher grades. A special package—separately or through the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan—to develop programmes across learning levels and monitor their implementation would help. While many schools are addressing this organically, we cannot leave it to chance and wisdom of individual schools.

Mental health

Another area is physical and mental health of children, particularly mental health that is usually overlooked. When we conduct KPMG Cyber Day—which aims at educating youngsters on the importance of cybersecurity and internet risk in schools—we realise how today’s children have incredibly more sources that influence them and need guidance and counselling to leverage this exposure positively. Also, the impact of Covid-19 on the mental state of children is far from over. We need to equip teachers, apart from having structured interventions to create awareness and assurance. While strengthening the Mid-day Meal Scheme, allocation for a similar initiative for the mental well-being of children is both imperative and desirable.

Better universities

Also read: Union Budget 2023: What banks are expecting from this year’s budget

With our ambitious target of achieving 50% GER (up from current 28%), we need to expand our higher education institutions, both in quantity and quality. This would mean significant capital expense, in the form of infrastructure, laboratories, research, faculty development etc. The Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) needs to be expanded to include state institutions and eventually private as well. We can look at including the scheduled commercial banks, wherein credit guarantees or at least credit evaluations are undertaken by the HEFA. Existing institutions that are established and have steady revenues should be allowed to create endowments. There should be a provision by which these endowments can be allowed to invest in free markets—similar to provident funds—so that a corpus is built. Many successful universities, particularly in the US, stand testimony for the growth and impact that can come with such endowments. Tradable instruments for the education sector need to be allowed, wherein returnable capital from the private sector can be used by educational institutions.

Digital University

The key to its success would be to reimagine higher education in sync with market expectations. Stackable and interoperable credits will be essential. The NEP recommends this and we would need enabling regulations to make it happen. This Budget should provide for Digital University to invest in creating a central platform and connecting digital infrastructure with individual/independent universities and educational institutions, both in India and abroad.


It is another area that needs attention. Given the resource and capital requirements, there should be a focused attempt to integrate research programmes happening in universities, independent research outfits, industries, think tanks etc. A unified approach to research will lead to better results and encourage the private sector to participate in it. The Prime Minister’s Science Technology & Innovation Council (PM-STIAC 2022) report highlighted this. Universities should be the hub of research activity with a substantial allocation for research in this Budget.

Vocational education

On vocational education, we should have unified standards at the national level and harmonise these with global standards. There should be Budget provision for strengthening the National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET) and bring all other standards into this fold. Similarly, there should be seamless interoperability between ITIs, polytechnics and degree-granting institutions. It will give a fillip to the perception crisis vocational education suffers from, making it more attractive for students to take up these courses. Industry will see a long-term investment and return. Also, assets in these institutions can be better utilised.

Also read: Budget 2023: Ambit of health cover scheme PM-JAY may widen

Skills universities

The Budget should provide for one ‘skills university’ in each state, where applied research in areas specific to that state can happen. These skills universities should look at effective deployment of digital technologies and online formats to reduce the classroom time, and that time can be used for remunerative apprenticeship activities by students, for whom this will be an important criterion to join vocational stream.

Given the current global economic scenario and how India should navigate successfully, there are many priorities for the finance minister. I am sure she will see the lasting benefit of building our human resources and their ability to steer India during the Amrit Kaal and allocate funds appropriately.

The author is national leader, Education and Skill Development, KPMG in India

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First published on: 16-01-2023 at 03:10 IST