It was anticipated that the Budget FY16 would be innovatively disruptive and that the finance minister would transform this annual, mundane exercise. However, if we benchmark this Budget against the aspirations of various stakeholders, it falls well short of expectations.
The government has merely paid lip service as far as education is concerned; there is lack of vision and no path-breaking ideas—public spend on education (R69,000 crore) has declined as a percentage of GDP to about 3%, instead of rising. What is more disturbing is the fact that a major portion of this Budget will be spent on meeting operating costs, while little would be left for infrastructure expansion and upgrade. There are doubts on whether the government will be able to achieve all that which has been promised to the Indian populace on a shoestring budget, including the upgrading of 80,000 secondary schools.
As per Technopak estimates, India needs investment of up to $200 billion across the schooling, higher education and vocational education segments to bridge the current gap in our education infrastructure (see table). It is evident that current public spending will not suffice to bridge this ever-widening gap.
It was also expected that the government would announce schemes for encouraging private investment in the education sector. However, there was no such statement. Against the backdrop of high growth projections in the economy, a 7-10% increase in the expenditure on education was called for. However, the government made almost no effort to spend on one of the most critical challenges facing our nation—our public education system.
With 42% of tax revenues going into the coffers of state governments, the central government was further squeezed in terms of increasing the budgetary allocation under various heads. It was imperative to spend each rupee carefully. But if one analyses the various announcements made in the Budget, one realises that there is a strong political undertone rather than astute economic prudence. One example is the government’s decision to set up an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Jammu & Kashmir and a Film Production Centre in Arunachal Pradesh, which begs the question as to where in these states is the industry ecosystem for placements and industry-academia partnerships. It appears that the government has not taken any lessons from the other newly-opened IIMs. One would also like to argue that, given the falling numbers of CAT aspirants and the oversupply of management institutions, the government’s priorities are set inaccurately in terms of launching more IIMs.
Another major disconnect was the government’s inability to look beyond the school education system. Governments in the past have done well on the school education front and it is evident in terms of rising enrolment. Now, the focus should have been on bringing in more accountability into the system in order to address challenges such as high dropout rates and the declining quality of the public school education system. Further, with more people ascending the education ladder, a large amount of investment is required to expand the public higher and vocational education infrastructure.
India’s much-touted demographic dividend can well prove to be a curse if our teeming millions do not become skilled and employable. With nearly 600 million of India’s population below the age of 25, there is need for large-scale skilling and employment generation. Apart from the Skill India mission, the government seems to have no other plan to avert the risk of a demographic disaster. It is an accepted fact that if India has to train 500 million people, it needs a pool of 3-4 lakh qualified trainers across various trades. It was expected that the government would set up skilling universities to address the increasing demand for qualified trainers. But on this front too the government has been found lacking on vision as no funds were allocated for this purpose.
While the integrated education and livelihood scheme, called Nai Manzil, is a welcome step and will impact 40 million school dropouts, it has to be understood that merely providing school-leaving certificates will not translate into skills and jobs for minority youth. It is also to be seen how the National Skills Mission and the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana shape up, especially in the absence of a vocational education and training Act. Similarly, the proposal of apprenticeship training institutes for women in Haryana and Uttarakhand is another welcome step but what was required was a complete revamping of the Apprenticeship Act.
Some positives have been the announcement of the Atal Innovation Mission, and the Self-Employment and Talent Utilisation (SETU), a techno-financial, incubation and facilitation programme to support all aspects of start-up businesses and other self-employment activities, particularly in technology-driven areas. A student financial aid authority will have to be set up to administer scholarships as well as educational loan schemes, and the Pradhan Mantri Vidya Lakshmi Karyakram will ensure that no student misses out on higher education for lack of funds. However, at the risk of repetition, on the whole, this Budget falls well short of expectations.
The author is associate director, Education, Technopak. Views are personal