The clocks are ticking, making people restless yet again. While students await their approaching examinations, a date more crucial for their immediate as well as long-term future is also near. The entire education sector awaits the Union Budget for FY2017-18, which is scheduled for announcement on February 1.
Let us see how the situation will unfold in the fast-approaching Union Budget announcement.
The previous budget for education witnessed more focus on infrastructure building as well as skill development. It is anticipated that although the same would continue for this year as well, a major component of the budget can possibly get diverted towards education. More essentially, this year will witness giant strides into the elementary and secondary education. Overall, the budget will focus on ushering in reforms. It would not only bolster the educational infrastructure, a major boost in online and digital education, and service tax relaxation on input services can also be expected this year.
With considerable advances into providing access to education, the forthcoming budget is expected to emphasise on improving the quality of education. Completing its 17 years, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has been able to achieve nearly a universal access to education, however, the imparted quality still remains a prime concern.
The budget can also make way for an increased activity in the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). This would be aimed to increase the educational standards of school, colleges, and universities and to uplift the secondary and higher education from the prevailing stagnancy.
India is expected to have 869 million working-age people by 2020. Unfortunately, a recent analysis by IndiaSpend revealed the appalling condition of education in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. These states are home to 43.6% of India’s population aged between five years and fourteen years, and yet, have the lowest student-teacher ratio, enrollment rates, as well as literacy. Moreover, as per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) published by Pratham, it was reported that every second Class 5 student in rural areas was not able to read Class 2 level text. These areas specifically need urgent attention and educational reforms in order to prevent a catastrophic situation for the entire nation.
Meanwhile, the quality of education in government schools and colleges across the country also demand immediate attention. Over a period of time, education has degraded significantly in government institutions. On the other hand, private institutions have been able to perform relatively well and have become the first preference of parents across the country. This is yet another crucial issue that needs to be addressed in the Union Budget for education.
The government in its Union Budget needs to make giant strides to bring Indian education in line with global educational standards. It is very likely that World Class University plan and Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) will receive a special allocation. The World Class University initiative seeks to make India’s 20 higher educational institutions (10 public and 10 private) rank amongst the top 100 universities globally. On the other hand, HEFA aims to offer affordable loans for infrastructure and research & development requirement of educational institutes. Also, digitisation of classrooms, bringing distinguished international faculties (similar to universities), and increased funds for Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship can also be expected. In the wake of demonetisation, a lucrative scheme to lure guardians into making digital payments can also be launched by the government.
Union Budget for education saw a single-digit hike during the previous fiscal year, while this year it can witness a double-digit growth rate in terms of budget allocation. With the expectation bar set somewhat high, considering the pressing requirements of the education industry, let us wait and watch what the budget will truly unveil for the sector.
(Chaudhry is the director of Aakash Educational Services Pvt Ltd. Views expressed are personal.)