Any developing country has a short supply of financial resources to provide even basic amenities. Though the current Indian government has been claiming to be a welfare one, the basic requirements of millions of people continue to be unmet.
Most of the developing countries are endowed with a large human capital, but any forward-looking government should leverage this capital in an efficient way. One of the main functions of the government should be to marry human capital with physical capital. This has to be done so that the country’s resources can be leveraged in the most optimal way. This transformation can occur only if human capital possesses sufficient education. The mercenary zeal of private enterprise can accelerate the process.
There is a marked shift in the demography of our country. The exponential growth of population in the band of 5-20-year-olds demands exponential investments in education. This has primarily not materialized due to the continuous demand on limited government resources for other purposes. In fact, government resources will never be enough. So there is an urgent need for the government to accept this reality and formulate policies for channelling private capital into this crucial sector.
It is relevant to draw a parallel with China here. The present Chinese population is what the Indian population will be in 2020-25. Apart from the various measures China adopted to augment continuous growth, education and skill development received a tremendous fillip. India must do the same.
The historical mindset of the Indian is to expect the government to undertake the responsibility of education. However, as incomes are inching up, paying for education is slowly gaining acceptance. The government must complement this change of mindset by freeing the education sector and allowing private capital. Private capital, by definition, smells profitable opportunities and gushes in; the pace of change is very brisk, thus gaining valuable time.
Having accepted the need for private capital in education, the next question posed by the naysayers is about cost, quality and control. We must start with a premise that some education is better than no education. As private capital flows in, many of these issues get sorted by simple market forces.
Education must be considered as any other amenity, without attaching any baggage. Factors such as reservations, source of capital, merit and beneficiaries should be kept out of the discussion in a country where millions have no access to basic education. We hear of many engineering colleges shutting down programmes in rural areas due to student shortages arising out of lack of infrastructure, teaching staff and other facilities.
So benchmarking must be done not against other countries, cultures, or systems, but against our own needs. This has to be the only yardstick to improve the availability of education.
Education being a part of the Concurrent List in the Constitution, Union and state governments must act as catalysts rather than controllers. The statements made by human resource development minister Kapil Sibal are indicative of the shift in the policy approach. But it’s not just the Centre: States that are progressive in their outlook on education will steal a march over others. Like private schools, states can also compete to get the best.
Having already lost decades, India has a long distance to cover. No further time should be lost; changes must be effected on a war footing. The only way out of this quandary is to use private resources with attractive policy incentives. The present inclination of the states to attract investment in industry should become a model to attract investments in education. Enlightened state governments can also leverage their demographic advantage.
D. Muralidhar is on the board of governors at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and member of the Planning Commission, government of Karnataka. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org