New Delhi: Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal said he would try his best to push for foreign direct investment in education and the government may soon set up a regulator to oversee this crucial sector that has the potential to attract high investments. Edited excerpts.
In the context of attacks on Indian students in Australia, does it not throw up the challenge of a supply-demand mismatch? Do you think the time has come to open up the education sector to do away with the political rhetoric and the hypocrisy?
Road to reforms: Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal. Kamal Singh / PTI
I entirely agree. I think if you are spending $20 billion (Rs94,800 crore) by sending your children out, it’s better to invest that $20 billion in the country. You know, you can transform the entire education sector.
How do you propose to do that? Will the Right to Education Bill come through in the Budget session?
That’s a priority. It’ll come through, hopefully, and many other things are going to happen, and I’ll make an announcement very soon of my 100-day agenda and the agenda for five years. But at the heart of it would be to open up the entire education sector to greater investment and to allow children to go to the school that they want to, without any concern about where the money is going to come from, because we’ll have to put in place a loan scheme, both in higher education as well as public education. If somebody wants to go to a private school, he should be entitled to go to a private school as long as he gets a loan.
How do you make the education delivery mechanism efficient and accountable?
Well, we are actually doing it. We have, in fact, over the last five years, employed some nine lakh teachers (and) lots of schools are being built. You know our problem is (that) this is not something that can be done overnight. We have to have a long-term solution. There are different issues at different levels, there is the primary school and the secondary school issue, there is the higher education issue, there is the teacher-training issue, there is the research issue, there is an issue of skilled development, there is an issue of educational reforms across the board. So, first we need to have a national road map.
Are we going to see a further hike in the allocation for education in the Budget?
I don’t know about adding further, but I think if we’re able to muster the courage to use this money usefully and effectively, I think half the problem will be solved.
Incentivizing private investment is, perhaps, weighed down by the Supreme Court order that education cannot be for profit. Is it time now to revisit this?
Yes, of course, they ought to have sustainable, viable businesses, but that doesn’t mean that they sort of hive off the profits into other businesses. I think what we need to do as a rational approach is let institutes make money, but they must go back into education. If somebody sets up an institution, for example, an ordinary school, and he wants to then build a vocational training centre from the profits he makes from the private school, I think he is entitled to do it.
Are you going to push for this change?
We are all looking at these things. I don’t think you expect me to start giving answers as to what is going to happen within 10 days of my joining the ministry, but certainly I’m looking at three issues. One is the issue of access, which means expansion. The other is the issue of equity, which means inclusion. And the third is the issue of quality, which means excellence. I think I’m going to combine all three to take this country forward.
Would you agree that we need to have a top-down approach, especially from a private sector point of view, so that the government looks after the bottom and you let the private sector to look after the top?
I don’t think, again, the government can look after the people at the bottom alone. I think there also you need to open up the sector in a big way. Can the government set up all the teacher training centres in the country? The answer is no.
We have perhaps the most overregulated system and the most under-governed. Is the time now to reform on the regulatory side?
Without any doubt, it has to be structurally reformed both at the school level as well as the higher education level. It’s not something that I’ve made up my mind (about), but we need to create an authority like Sebi (market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India) in the education sector, which actually deals with regulation.
We need to have an independent accrediting agency that accredits at the entry point by giving a provisional certificate, and when the institution is built, by giving a final certificate so that the intake can take place. We need to get the government out of this and give it to an independent regulator. But all of this needs a lot of work and a lot of consensus across the board, and I think once we do that, then anybody should be able to enter.
I’ll give you an example. Except for the Central government or the state governments, nobody can set up a university. And then, you have the whole deemed-to-be-university concept. Why should this happen? Anybody should be able to set up a university and he should be able to compete in a market for the quality of that degree. As long as you put a system in place, it’s very easy to work it out so you’ll get the investment that (will bridge) that Rs2.5 trillion gap if you have the appropriate policies in place.