Union Budget 2017 for education should be transformative
Our colleges are good at dispensing degrees but imparting quality education is another matter altogether. We need to examine the reasons why only a handful of institutions make it into global rankings of excellence.union budget Updated: Jan 31, 2017 21:12 IST
Despite being a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy global scenario, at 7.1% growth in 2016-17, India’s growth has faltered from the 7.5% recorded in the preceding year. The intended benefits of demonetisation and GST aside (which should spur domestic spending), policy measures will need to ensure that the growth engines of the economy including agriculture, exports, manufacturing, services etc stay oiled and do not run out of steam.
The 2017 budget comes at a time when the economy could well said to be at an inflection point. The expectations from budget will be significant. Interestingly, the Niti Aayog has sought an (up to) 300% increase in social sector spending over the next three years, partially by cutting down on the mega subsidies that the government doles out every year to sectors such as health and education. While a higher allocation is to be expected, here are some of the key issues that need to be looked at in the education sector, so that the intended outcomes are optimised, are aligned to industry requirements and finally, in synch with the long term interests of the nation.
Primary & secondary education
The focus should primarily be on improving the quality of education, especially education delivered by state funded schools and universities (and affiliated colleges). Here suggestions from the new education policy report submitted by TSR Subramanian and his committee should be looked at.
One of the key elements of the report is a recommendation for an increase in budgetary allocation of the sector to 6% of the GDP immediately. At the school level, a robust and all-rounded school assessment system should be introduced for schools, which is benchmarked to clearly defined standards.
This should be integrated with a national teacher-improvement system that brings in new standards for teacher recruitment, assessments and retention. Alongside there has to be issue-specific funding for curriculum modernisation, pedagogical innovations, and examination reforms to help improve employability in both professional and general streams of higher education.
Our colleges are good at dispensing degrees but imparting quality education is another matter altogether. We need to examine the reasons why only a handful of institutions make it into global rankings of excellence. Universities, especially those at the state level require quality enhancement programmes replicating those of China and South Korea to improve both infrastructure and teaching standards and bring them at par with state-run institutions globally.
Also to improve standards, a more focused approach is required with regards to making research a central pivot of learning within Indian universities. This would include introducing research-led education and open-ended and experiential projects at the undergraduate level itself and also setting up specialised research centers within colleges, in association with industries and industry bodies.
A budgetary allocation to implement this within a specific time-frame with defined deliverables and inter-linked with industry and enterprise should be considered. Government should make such efforts and be open to ideas from both private and public universities on a competitive basis as done in countries which do have many globally ranked institutions of higher learning.
What is also imperative is to have metrics to evaluate the performance of the supported institutions with experts in the areas from India and abroad.
India’s graduate enrollment ratio is way below that of the West. While that has improved over the past few years, what is more interesting is that while India produces more graduates than China but the latter’s graduates are more employable (a reflection on the quality of our institutions).
It’s no surprise that enough statistics and reports show that barely 20% of India’s engineering graduates are employable. Employability =jobs and India’s demographic dividend is all set to make this the world’s youngest country by 2020.
While we are hopeful that the world will set up its factories in India, India needs to also have the requisite trained manpower.
Not all of India’s millions are required to become engineers, doctors or college professors. Recent governments have made great strides with regards to upskilling India but when you’re looking at employment for a working population of 860 million by 2020, radical approaches are required.
The budget should allocate significant resources on skills development through dedicated skill orientation centres. Ideally these centres can be integrated with school education – perhaps from the secondary school level onwards, overseen in part by the respective sector skills councils.
Germany’s model in school-industry collaboration in providing valuable hands-on training and internships can be looked at.
India’s education conundrum should also be seen in light of the crisis of education afflicting Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh that together account for 445.1 million of India’s 1.2 billion population and some of the lowest literacy rates (Census 2011).
School outcomes are consequently also lower in these states. But seen in the context of employment, over the next century, 60% of the population increase in India would come from these four states, with only 22% from the more developed states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra (source: 2003 study by The Economic and Political Weekly).
Finally, on the funding side, just about 1.5 % students are able to access educational loans, due to high interest rates, lengthy procedures, and outright denial/delay by banks. The outlay for the National Education Finance Bank too needs to be increased from its present Rs 1000 crore. This should be combined with lower interest rates (not over 5%) and with a long payment duration (15-20 years).
SN Balakrishnan, Chancellor of Shiv Nadar University