By Jai Decosta
The Budget season is upon us and like every year experts across sectors are sharing their wishlist with the FM for her consideration. Needless to say, being one of the major pillars of a country’s GDP, the education sector needs additional attention as it impacts the development and prosperity of the country.
In the last Budget, the government decided to switch a fraction of the funds from education to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure, which was the need of the hour. This year, we hope the government will consider increased allocation to education to compensate for last year.
During the pandemic, many standalone schools had to close doors, resulting in job losses for staff and education discontinuity for children from poor families. Even many government-aided schools had to discontinue operations due to unavailability of proper devices, network issues and teachers’ inability to teach online. As for private schools, many state governments issued directives of fee reduction or exemption, which negatively impacted their finances (even as most had to invest heavily to improve their e-learning infrastructure, providing training for teachers, and paying salaries to staff).
Fortunately, this year I believe we are in a much better position to tackle the adversities of the pandemic and we can bring our focus back to education. I would urge the government to consider the following:
Waive GST on school rentals: In countries such as the UAE, the UK and the US, schools are exempt from GST or allowed to claim a refund of the GST paid. But in India, given high cost of land, most school trusts have a long-term lease with a third party and pay lease rentals for a pre-decided period in case they don’t own the land. This rent is taxed under GST and school trusts have to pay GST to landowners. But unlike other industries, schools cannot claim credit for the same as the fees they collect from students are exempt from GST. Schools are left with no choice but increase the fee, which, in turn, becomes an additional burden on the parents.
Loans at lower interest rates: Loans to schools should be considered priority sector lending. During the pandemic, schools had to cut down fees, allow EMI payments, and in a few cases exempt fees completely to support parents who had lost jobs. But they could not shrug-off the responsibility towards teachers and non-teaching staff, and had to pay them salaries. To maintain education continuity, they had to invest in tech infrastructure. This exhausted funds of many schools and they could not generate any surplus as schools fall under the ‘not for profit’ category. Due to this, banks and financial institutes are not willing to lend to schools as they are unable to see a clear path to repayment. Hence, school trusts must be allowed to take up loans at a concessional interest rate.
RTE reimbursement: It’s a state subject, but due to lack of funds in state treasury, school bodies have to wait for indefinite times for RTE reimbursements. Given the Covid situation, I would request the central government earmark special funds to support states for RTE repayments so that schools can avoid funds crunch.
A country’s growth depends on empowerment of the youth, and to do so as edupreneurs it is our responsibility to provide the best educational infrastructure possible. Let all of us support our youth by providing them the opportunity and innovation they need to fly high.
The author is founder & CEO, K12 Techno Services Pvt Ltd