Last year was about the monumental changes in the Indian polity. People will expect the positive sentiment to translate into action and impact on the ground, and that, we believe, will be the real test of the incumbent government. For obvious reasons, the education sector has been a priority area for successive years; however, the sector is in need of policy reforms, increased outlays, stringent implementation of existing schemes and, most importantly, measurement of the efficacy of the work undertaken.
We think that while the Union Budget of 2014 was promising in parts for the education sector, in many ways it was not hugely dissimilar to the earlier Budgets with no significant increases in outlays. However, it did strike the right notes with the priority accorded to skill development, teacher training (launch of the Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching), and digitisation and innovation in schools. We believe each of these is a critical block in improving learning outcomes in Indian classrooms and contributing to the development of the learner.
Some of the other announcements through 2014, too, seem like steps in the right direction, such as plans to increase IITs and IIMs, review of the role of key regulators such as UGC and AICTE, and introduction of credit transfer system in Indian universities. The underlying philosophy behind each of these initiatives seems to be that quality education should be made accessible and affordable for learners of all ages. To make this happen, the government will need to ensure that quality standards of content and delivery are improved.
In 2015 we look forward to a continued impetus on education and sector-specific reforms. Some of the measures that the education industry will welcome include:
l Laws to protect original and authentic content in the larger interest of students and the education fraternity: Copyright infringement, piracy and plagiarism of content should be dealt with seriously so that authors and publishers are incentivised to produce high-quality and original work for learners.
l Digitisation in schools: The last few years have been marked by increased digitisation of education, mainly in elite private schools. Across the world the governments have supported digitisation of education which has led to better learning outcomes. There should be allocation for digitisation in both government and government-aided schools, as also in private schools. Private publishers can then be encouraged to provide interactive digital content to such schools.
l Clarity in tax regime for e-books: The current tax structure for publishers is unclear. It is a long-pending demand of publishers to bring about a simplified tax structure around both print and electronic content (e-books). Currently, in some cases, service tax is levied on e-books, a holding tax on foreign published journals and no tax is levied on books printed in India. With increased usage of e-books, taxation of e-books and other forms electronic content should be reviewed earnestly. Learning either in print or through the electronic medium should not be differentiated.
l Duty on paper: A long-standing issue has been duty on paper which results in publishers increasing price of books on a frequent basis, leading to cost burden on parents of school-going children. A reduction in VAT/custom duty on paper shall certainly be a welcome step in 2015.
By Ranjan Kaul
The author is managing director, Oxford University Press India