New Delhi: Finance minister Arun Jaitley indicated in his Budget speech on Wednesday that India’s education sector would take a reform path in 2017-18.
From focusing on learning assessment in schools and revamping higher education regulator University Grants Commission (UGC) to allow more autonomy to setting up of a national testing agency to conduct higher education entrance exams and freeing nodal education bodies from tedious administrative work, Jaitley touched the pain points in the country’s ever expanding education sector.
Overall, the Union Budget 2017-18 has pegged an outlay of Rs79,685.95 crore for the education sector for financial year 2017-18, up from Rs72,394 crore in 2016-17—a 9.9% rise. Of the total outlay, Rs46,356.25 is for the school sector and the rest for higher education.
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“We have proposed to introduce a system of measuring annual learning outcomes in our schools. Emphasis will be given on science education and flexibility in curriculum to promote creativity through local innovative content,” the finance minister said.
He also spoke about an “innovation fund” for the secondary education segment and leveraging technology to take quality courses to the mass students base in 3,479 educationally-backward blocks. In the higher education space, the finance minister said the government will undertake reforms in the University Grants Commission of India.
“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,” said Jaitley, taking a leaf from the much talked about Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) Bill that promises to grant “complete autonomy” to the elite B-Schools.
However, there seems to be a gap between the intent and actual allocations under some of the education reform heads. For example, the school assessment program has been allocated a sum of Rs67 lakh in the 2017-18 budget as against Rs5 crore in the previous one.
Conducting learning assessment in a mammoth school system with nearly 250 million students across over 1.4 million schools with the amount allocated looks difficult. In contrast, the budget pegs Rs125 crore for appointing language teachers in 2017-18 as against Rs25 crore in the previous budget.
Similarly, the e-learning portfolio of higher education has been allocated a total of Rs497 crore in 2017-18, as against Rs552 crore in 2016-17. Though the e-learning revised budget talks of a Rs516.89 crore allotment for the fiscal ending 31 March, the new allocation is below the revised estimates.
The massive open online courses (MOOCs), part of the overall e-learning segment has been allocated Rs75 crore, the same as last year. The budget is also silent on any allocation for the proposed national testing agency or the innovation fund.
“If you look at some of the reforms that the budget speech mentioned and the allocations made, then it is disappointing. Too little too late,” said Narayanan Ramaswamy, partner and head education practice at consulting and auditing firm KPMG.
However, the budget allocates Rs250 crore for capital expenditure for setting up of higher education financing agency up from a token Rs1 crore last year. The world class institutions plan has been allocated Rs50 crore and the prime minister’s research fellowship, a new entrant in the budget has got Rs75 crore.
Similarly, the IIMs will get Rs1,030 crore in 2017-18 including Rs190 crore for setting up of new IIMs. In 2016-17, the government had allocated Rs730 crore to IIMs, which was raised to Rs857.78 crore in the revised estimate.
The Indian Institutes of Technologies have been allocated Rs7,856 crore in this budget, up from around Rs5,000 crore in the last budget. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the flagship central scheme for universalization of school education has been given Rs23,500 crore, up from Rs22,500 crore in last budget. The mid-day-meal programme has been allocated Rs10,000 crore, up by Rs300 crore from the last budget.