Union Budget FY24: Ticks most boxes of access, inclusivity and quality | The Financial Express

Union Budget FY24: Ticks most boxes of access, inclusivity and quality

But allocation to education is still less than 3% of GDP (the NEP-recommended level is 6%)

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on her way to present the Union Budget
Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on her way to present the Union Budget (File/PTI)

The first Budget of the Amrit Kaal saw a fine balancing act by the finance minister between growth and stability. The country was eager to see how the most important aspect of the Amrit Kaal—the youth power of India—will be strengthened. The Budget did have initiatives for the Education sector to cheer. At the same time, it also had a few questions unanswered. Let’s take a quick look at some of the salient points.

School education

Teachers will have to play a central role in successful implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP). The past few years have seen some dramatic shifts in the teaching-learning process and Covid-19 accelerated the acceptance of digital formats. Given these developments, teacher training/faculty development needs a revamp. The Budget talks about re-envisioning teachers’ training through innovative pedagogy, curriculum transaction, continuous professional development, dipstick surveys, and information and communication technology (ICT) implementation. It recommends that District Institutes of Education and Training will be developed as vibrant institutes of excellence. This initiative needs to be sufficiently funded and nurtured to bring in the big revolution in Indian education.

Revival of reading habit will be crucial in building citizens of the future. The move to have National Digital Library is in sync with the digital revolution. Efforts should be made to form a broadband network connecting all these libraries to ensure the benefits are fully realised. These libraries will be augmented with physical libraries at Panchayat and ward level—giving much-needed identity to be a single point access to the world of knowledge for our rural youth.

Our cultural and civilisational identity is encapsulated in our tribal communities. We need to provide an ecosystem to nurture this to be a living tradition, rather than just preserve it. Providing the right education and means of livelihood is the best way to strengthen them. For the Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS), the Centre will recruit 38,800 teachers and support staff for 740 schools serving 3.5 lakh tribal students. This should be extended to provide vocational and livelihood training for these kids in synch with their tradition. The initiative should embrace existing attempts to run such schools by indigenous communities.

Overall, the Department of School Education and Literacy (DSEL) has been allocated Rs 68,804.85 crore, and the largest share has been allocated to Samagra Shiksha (Rs 37,453.47 crore for FY24). I am sure a good part of it would be spent on preparing our schools for NEP-led transformation.

Higher education

The Budget has given a fillip to several sector-based research initiatives (agriculture, healthcare, tourism, financial services, communications and gems & jewellery). Innovation in these sectors will help build a strong research outlook in higher education.

It is encouraging to see higher education institutions getting the attention for research grants. India has been experimenting on a format of standalone research institution model. Apart from dilution of precious funding, this also meant research did not get the benefit of access to scholars in educational institutions and had left the research environment in India fragmented. This Budget marks a distinct and positive change from the previous approach, to integrate higher education and research rather than the standalone research lab model. A total of 100 labs will be set up in engineering institutions with various authorities, regulators, banks and other businesses for developing applications using 5G services. The labs will cover, among others, applications such as smart classrooms, precision farming, intelligent transport systems and healthcare applications. Three centres of excellence for artificial intelligence (AI) will be set up in top educational institutions. Facilities in select ICMR labs will be made available for research by public and private medical college faculty and private sector research and development teams. One of the IITs will be given a research grant for five years to encourage indigenous production of lab-grown diamonds.

Apart from this, centres of excellence will be set up for research and innovation in pharmaceuticals and the Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad, will be supported as a centre of excellence.

Another encouraging direction is to involve industry to set standards and ownership in specialised areas.

On building new institutions, 157 new nursing colleges will be established in co-location with the existing 157 medical colleges established since 2014. Also, we don’t see many new educational institutions mentioned in this Budget. Rightfully so, the government might want to accelerate implementation of institutions like IITs and IIMs, declared in previous Budgets.

Overall, the higher education department has been allocated Rs 44,094.62 crore for FY24. The PM Uchchatar Shiksha Protsahan (PM-USP) has been allocated Rs 1,554 crore while Rs 400 crore has been allocated for PM Research Fellowship. For Digital India e-learning, an allocation of Rs 420 crore has been made and the total expenditure budget for research and innovation stands at Rs 210.61 crore.

Skill education

Skilling finds a mention embedded in various initiatives in the budget. Let’s have a look at certain specific skill development/vocational training initiatives.

Acknowledging the fact that the global markets would be an important part of the demand for Indian skilled manpower, this Budget has provided for 30 Skill India International Centres to be set up across states. This will go a long way in preparing our youth for global jobs. A suggestion would be to have these centres networked digitally. Eventually, each district should have at least one such centre. These should also be accredited for international assessment and certification.

Another interesting initiative is the unified Skill India Digital Platform, which also includes a big boost to the National Apprenticeship Scheme through stipend for apprentices. I am sure this platform will act as a digital exchange for talent. This needs great amount of collaboration with state governments and local industries. Care should be taken to nurture it with participation from all stakeholders.

To boost apprenticeship, a stipend support to 47 lakh youth in three years, a direct benefit transfer under a pan-India national apprenticeship promotion scheme will be rolled out. Given the rapid changes that are happening in requirements across job roles, this will help in bridging any learning gap.

Convergence in skill development—across dimensions of industry vs institutes, short term vs long term, virtual vs physical centres, theory vs apprenticeship, SCVT vs NCVT—is going to be critical in making the Skill India Mission successful.

The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) 4.0 would boost the prospects for reskilling, upskilling and Recognition of Prior Learning requirements, along with on-the-job training, industry partnership and alignment of courses with the needs of industry. The scheme will cover new-age courses for Industry 4.0 like coding, AI, robotics, mechatronics, IoT, 3D printing, drones and soft skills. It could play a key role in augmenting existing skilling and education programmes—in making them job-ready.

Civil servants are the lifeline of government functioning and it is heartening to see augmentation of Mission Karmayogi, where the Centre, states and Union territories are implementing capacity-building plans for civil servants. The government has launched an integrated online training platform to provide continuous learning opportunities for lakhs of government employees to upgrade their skills and facilitate people-centric approach.

Overall, the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has received Rs 3,517.31 crore—up from last year’s (2022-23) Rs 2,999 crore, which is encouraging but might still fall short of the massive requirement, especially given the urgency in training our youth for the Amrit Kaal.

In summary, it is a Budget that has given a lot of new initiatives for the education sector, many of them forward looking. It ticks all boxes of access, inclusivity and quality. Some earlier initiatives such as National Digital University, Higher Education Financing Authority (HEFA) need nurturing and the Budget has no explicit mention of these. Perhaps they are covered as a part of other allocations. While we have still not reached the recommended level (by NEP) of an allocation of 6% of GDP—in fact, we are less than 3% even with this Budget—I am sure that with effective usage this allocation will make a big difference to development of our human resources, the most important asset of our country.

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

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First published on: 07-02-2023 at 01:30 IST