The education sector got a substantial boost in the 2017-18 budget, with finance minister Arun Jaitley allocating Rs79,686 crore, which is up by more than 10% from last year.
The minister announced a host of initiatives to reform the sector, including setting up of a National Testing Service (NTS) to conduct all entrance examinations for higher education institutions, restructuring the University Grants Commission (UGC), and launching online courses for school and college students.
He also declared the setting up of an innovation fund for secondary education.
Students can expect greater professionalism in entrance tests as the NTS, which will be an autonomous and self-sustained nodal agency, will free up agencies such as the CBSE, IITs, and the AICTE that currently conduct exams for admission to medical, engineering and business colleges in India.
These agencies will be able to focus solely on academics.
More than 4 million students appear for seven tests — CAT, JEE (Main), JEE (Advanced), GATE, CMAT, NEET, NET — conducted by the CBSE, IITs, IIMs and AICTE every year.
Experts welcomed the move but stressed that it should have a research wing.
“The agency should not only manage large-scale tests, but also have a wing for research such as ETS in USA,” said Dheeraj Sanghi, the dean of academics at IIIT-Delhi.
Human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar called the budget revolutionary, while officials in the ministry were delighted that the enhanced allocation could translate into a bonanza of around Rs 3,000 crore for IITs to spend on research, infrastructure upgrade, and for hiring faculty.
The finance minister announced boosting the Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM), programme to offer online courses similar to MOOCs.
The HRD ministry will launch at least 350 online courses. The programme had a soft launch last year.
This will be linked to 32 educational channels, which are announced in the budget, to help students prepare for their exams.
Jaitley stressed the need to provide greater autonomy to educational institutions, saying the government will undertake reforms in the UGC, which will provide greater autonomy to educational institutions.
“Good quality institutions would be enabled to have greater administrative and academic autonomy. Colleges will be identified based on accreditation and ranking, and given autonomous status. A revised framework will be put in place for outcome-based accreditation and credit-based programmes,” he said.
Former vice chancellor of Delhi University, Dinesh Singh, welcomed the increased funding, but cautioned that implementation would be the key.
“The country needs it (education funding) badly. I welcome the fact they want to restructure the UGC as it is very crucial. But we need a major out-of-box policy initiative along with it.”
The innovation fund for secondary education will encourage local innovation, gender parity, and information and communications technology (ICT).
This will include ICT-enabled learning and transformation, and the focus will be on 3,479 blocks lagging in education.
The finance minister emphasised on quality education, saying the government will introduce a system of measuring annual learning outcomes in schools.
Emphasis will be given to science and flexibility in curriculum to promote creativity through local innovative content.
“Quality education will energise the youth,” Jaitley said quoting Swami Vivekananda.