High on direction, low on planning

The plans for implementation, right from allocation and sourcing of funds for various schemes, are missing in Budget.

Social sector allocations have been big topics of debate during Budget discussions, because the results from allocations get manifested over a period of time, making it difficult to measure the impact of investments. Education and skilling have been much discussed as key drivers of growth and developing human potential. The Prime Minister has mentioned in various forums how skilling is a key agenda for the government. He walked the talk by setting up an unprecedented, new ministry. As we geared up towards the first full Budget of this government, there were big expectations both from policy direction and specific schemes and allocations. When the Budget speech was being read out by the finance minister, I couldn’t help but wonder if some pages on education and skilling got missed out from the bunch. Budget FY16 was interesting for what was not said, more than for what was said.

With respect to education, Budget FY16 was high on direction and less on plan. The overall spend increased from R68,728 crore (with respect to FY15) to R68,968 crore. Hardly any increase, given the government’s stated objective of having at least 6% of GDP allocation for education (it is still below 4%). In fact, if we extrapolate the previous Budget numbers for a full term, the allocation has actually reduced. The access part of early education has been singled out for investment. A secondary school in a 5-km radius of every student, plan to upgrade 80,000 schools and add or upgrade 75,000 junior/middle ones to the senior secondary level are right steps. The Pradhan Mantri Vidya Lakshmi Karyakram for scholarships is another step to ensure reach to the economically deprived. But most announcements are in the area of higher education—new IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and other special institutes. These are in addition to similar institutions announced in the last Budget. While all these are notable initiatives, it is important that we consolidate the gains from previous investments rather than go for new schemes.

Also, there is a big danger of having more and more youngsters university-ready but without adequate avenues. The youth could leave the nation for better destinations—never to return. Imagine spending on our human resources in the most difficult phase (primary and secondary education) and not investing where it is getting converted to workforce, where it can contribute to economic growth. This is the situation in our neighbouring countries and in many African nations too. Therefore, it makes more sense to invest in higher education and, at the same time, reap the benefits of all earlier investments in primary and secondary education. But there is no clarity on how these will be achieved. Where are we going to get the additional budget?

Today is also a great opportunity to bring in private sector investment, especially through the PPP mode. The mood is just right and the economy is set to boom—corporates are willing to invest in higher education and research.

As far as skilling and vocational education, did we miss the big opportunity? While there is a mention of the National Skills Mission, there is nothing else apart from the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gramin Kaushal Yojana for R1,500 crore digital voucher scheme and employment opportunities from enhanced NREGA and Nai Manzil. We also expected more impetus for the ministry of skills and entrepreneurship. From a government that has put skills on the top of its agenda, we expected far-reaching measures.

Another major miss was the much-awaited New Education Policy, which could be a game-changer. The Budget was also silent on some very critical areas such as teacher training, accreditation, learning outcomes, recognition of prior learning of skills, training ecosystem, apprenticeship act and many more. In general, we didn’t find those bold and innovative steps that could have truly strengthened the skill agenda and, in turn, provided the much-needed human capital for projects such as Make-in-India. Or maybe this is medium- to long-term agenda and things will unfold at the right time.

Overall, the Budget was more about direction and the indication of things to come. The plan for implementation, right from allocation and source of funds for various schemes, like we have always been saying, was missing. One possible reason could be that with the increased allocation to states, the state Budgets should now allocate more towards this area. Let us believe this is the first part of the grand plan that this government has for education and skilling.

The author is partner and head of Education & Skilling, KPMG in India. Views are personal

Narayanan Ramaswamy

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First published on: 09-03-2015 at 00:01 IST