Budget of Hope

The Union Budget 2018-19 will be presented on February 1 and therefore whatever we may recommend or write about it, will be largely immaterial to some extent as the decision would have been almost printed by now. Still, this budget presentation will be keenly followed mainly for political reasons. And the present government has not been able to convince education sector stakeholders or observers that it is education friendly and budget cuts in education previous were just in technical terms as the financial arrangement with states have been reengineered.

A couple of issues have always been at the centre of criticism for long. One that whatever budget outlay or demand is put forth, the actual sanction in most cases is less by 40% or more. And even this amount reaches the action destination only towards the end of the financial year. So, the spending is a problem area both from the point of view of plan as well as outcome. The second criticism is of course the persistent demand for more financial resources for education, more so in the higher education segment. The much referred Kothari Commission’s 6 % of GDP has almost become a cliché. So, this issue will remain a topic of hot discussion.

Imposing GST on outsourced services of higher educational institutions has been an area of concern and not fully understood. It is argued that it will only increase the cost of education and will have a detrimental impact on its overall quality. Higher education should be treated at par with the primary and secondary education. “In the coming budget, we urge the government to exempt higher education from GST,” is a demand by private HEIs lobby.

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, Higher education budget definitely it can fuel the government’s well intended initiatives like Make in India, Digital India and Skill India. 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.

To build a strong future and a new generation of leaders, the share of education budget should increase considerably to solve the problem of skewed quality education.  Government should encourage technology enablement in schools. This could be done by allocating significant portion of the education budget to development and integration of ed-tech in traditional education.

Education and skill development should be looked at as an investment for the growth agenda. To make domestic higher education more affordable, the government must take adequate steps to decrease education loan rates across the board.

To promote research and development and to bring our institutions at par with the best in the world, additional allocation of funds is needed to increase grants for Research and Development, introduce more scholarships and support in bringing good quality teachers to the country.

There is a need for greater transparency in fund allocation for the education cess collected over the years. Proper utilization of this cess with earmarked schemes would ensure that the benefits of education reach all sections of the society.

The budget should also provide for institutional strengthening and implementation of existing initiatives fully. Let’s hope education gets a priority this time!

(Published in Jan 2108 issue of Curriculum)