Education sector needs more public spending and private investment

Published: February 29, 2016 12:04 AM

Union Budget FY17 is an opportunity for using the Centre’s spend as a strategic tool to shift our system’s focus from being inputs-driven to learning-outcomes driven

Education sector impacts the future of the nation and, for that reason, it should ascend in importance, purely for the potential impact it can create at multiple levels. Simply put, education can fuel the government’s well-intended initiatives such as Make-in-India, Digital India and Skill India. The influence of this sector can be felt by both industry and the common people and is, indeed, an investment into the future.

A well-educated population is the key driver for economic growth. Therefore, the government’s agenda to revive economic growth must include strengthening the education system further. Apart from building the school infrastructure to improve student retention, Union Budget FY17 is an opportunity for using the Centre’s spend as a strategic tool to shift our system’s focus from being inputs-driven to learning-outcomes driven.

In fact, Budget FY17 could be a privileged opportunity for the finance minister to usher the changes in the sector, at a time when the government is finalising the New Education Policy. Clearly, there is a need to increase public expenditure on education to drive initiatives. Some of the focus areas that should be considered are:
* Incentivising the sector for private investment: To improve India’s gross enrolment ratio (GER) across schools and colleges, and increase student retention, we have to focus on increasing collaborative efforts between private sector and the government to promote quality education for all. The government may take initiatives to boost private investment, along with devising a mechanism wherein the investor will get a fixed share in return. There is also a dire need to substantially add quality institutions, to ensure Indian students don’t need to look overseas for securing the desired level of higher education.
* Increasing the focus on virtual or blended education: I believe the government must set aside budgets and engage the private sector vigorously to build virtual or blended institutions, to enhance access to quality education.
* Faculty development: India is grappling with a severe shortage of trained faculty, especially at the school level. To address this issue, the government should expedite the launch of a national mission for faculty development with a special focus on training of school teachers. The country needs setting up of specialised research and training institutes with focus on areas such as school leadership, early literacy, numeracy and pedagogy.
* Revision of tax rates: The education industry also desires that the government reconsiders the service tax on educational institutions, which eventually leads to an increase in the cost of the provision of educational services.

Specific incentives and initiatives in the above areas should be the focus of today’s Budget. The complexity of the Indian educational challenge calls for greater involvement of private sector capital and expertise, especially global leaders, so that best practices reach Indian schools and colleges.

By Deepak Mehrotra

The author is managing director, Pearson India

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