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Union Budget FY23: The big digital push education needed

The Budget FY23 has allocated Rs 1,04,278 crore for the education sector—an increase of 11.86% compared to the revised 2021-22 gross allocation of Rs 93,223 crore.

The allocation for Samagra Shiksha went up to Rs 37,383 crore in 2022-23, from Rs 29,999 crore in 2021-22.
The allocation for Samagra Shiksha went up to Rs 37,383 crore in 2022-23, from Rs 29,999 crore in 2021-22.

The Union Budget FY23 has allocated Rs 1,04,278 crore for the education sector—an increase of 11.86% compared to the revised 2021-22 gross allocation of Rs 93,223 crore. While it is still lower than the NEP-recommended 6% of GDP, it is a positive sign and an acknowledgement that this sector needs more focus. If we look at the Budget from a sub-sector perspective, it is interesting to see the allocation and hence the trend.

In school education, acknowledging learning losses due to closure of schools, the ‘one class-one TV channel’ programme of PM eVIDYA will be expanded from 12 to 200 TV channels. I am sure the Rs 1,00,000 allocation is an oversight—the scheme obviously needs a lot more funding. This will help state governments to provide supplementary education in regional languages for classes 1 to 12. It is a big step in providing high-quality e-content in all spoken languages for delivery via the Internet, mobile phones, TV and radio through digital teachers. A competitive mechanism for development of quality e-content by teachers has been mentioned and I am sure it will empower and equip them with digital tools of teaching and facilitate better learning outcomes.

The allocation for Samagra Shiksha went up to Rs 37,383 crore in 2022-23, from Rs 29,999 crore in 2021-22. Similarly, the allocation for Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) went up from Rs 340 crore to Rs 550 crore. Thrust is given on programmes such as Accelerating State Education Program to Improve Results (ASPIRE) and Exemplar Schools through an allocation of Rs 600 crore and Rs 1,800 crore, respectively, for 2022-23. These initiatives will put states at the forefront of improving learning outcomes.

While these are good measures, a separate allocation for enhancing digital infrastructure—particularly in rural India, which would have been crucial for the development of the sector—is missing.

On the higher education front, there is a welcome announcement of a digital university, which will be established to provide access to students, across the country, world-class quality universal education with personalised learning experience at their doorsteps. This will be made available in different Indian languages and information and communication technology (ICT) formats. The university will be built on a networked hub-spoke model, with the hub building cutting-edge ICT expertise. The best public universities and institutions in the country will collaborate as a network of hub-spokes. It’s a forward-looking move. KPMG had suggested a blueprint for a similar digital university for skill development: the ‘Skill-Tech Varsity’. It is heartening to see the Budget having a clear focus on leveraging digital technologies.

In a fillip to smart city and other initiatives, under the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), five academic institutions on urban planning are to be made centres of excellence. The institutions will get endowment of Rs 250 crore each. Apart from this, agricultural universities will be funded to revise syllabi to meet the needs of modern-day farming.

In a welcome move, World Class Institutions have been allocated Rs 1,700 crore for 2022-23—an increase from Rs 1,200 crore in 2021-22. This could be effectively used for bringing our education in select areas such as financial services and technology to compete with best-in-class globally. The Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan has been allocated Rs 2,042 crore for 2022-23, up from Rs 793 crore in 2021-22. Also, the National Mission on Education through ICT has been allocated Rs 400 crore and the Programme for Apprentice Training Rs 500 crore for 2022-23.

However, lack of announcements on financing higher education and research, the Higher Education Commission of India Bill, etc, make me feel some of the important elements of the NEP have been missed out in Budget considerations.

In skilling and vocational education, the Digital Ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood (the DESH-Stack e-portal) will be launched with an aim to empower citizens to skill, reskill or upskill through online training. It will also provide API-based trusted skill credentials, payment and discovery layers to find relevant jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. To promote critical thinking skills and to give space for creativity, 750 virtual labs in science and mathematics, and 75 skilling e-labs for simulated learning environment, will be set up in 2022-23. The National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS) has been allocated Rs 170 crore in 2022-23 as against no allocation in the last Budget. The budget for Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion (SANKALP) has gone up from Rs 193.47 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 300 crore in 2022-23.

Overall, there are some laudable initiatives especially the big push for digital across school, skill development and higher education and an increased Budget allocation across initiatives. In my view, there are three initiatives that could be game-changers in the Indian education scenario:

—The central digital university with a hub-and-spoke arrangement could well serve the need for remote learning in the digital space. I am sure if this is well-planned and leveraged, this could be a boon for those who cannot have access to formal university education system and change the higher education landscape in India;
—The DESH portal could bring about a similar revolution in the upskilling and life-long skilling space. With the rapidly changing skill requirement across job functions, the ease of creating, learning and recognition could change the skilling landscape for many sectors—particularly for small and medium organisations;
—The convergence of digital channels and vernacular push in school education will be a model for many countries with large, dispersed learners. I expect a lot of innovation to happen on this platform once it is established.

Apart from this, proper utilisation of allocations this year would mark the beginning of changes mentioned in the NEP 2020.

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

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