New Delhi: The cash-strapped central government has cut the money it was supposed to spend on higher education this fiscal year by 13%. The hardest hit will be two key initiatives of the human resource development (HRD) ministry, two officials said.

One is the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT), which aims to promote quality through technology-enabled learning. The low-cost Aakash computer tablet is a part of this mission.

The second is improving the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) established in the 11th five-year plan (2007-12), according to the officials, who didn’t want to be identified. Seven new IITs and six new IIMs were established in the past three years.

“The Planning Commission has informed the HRD ministry officially" about the cut in the budget, said one of the officials cited above.

The finance minister had announced an expenditure outlay of 15,000 crore for higher education in the 2012-13 budget.

The modified version of the Aakash, launched in November, has been getting good reviews after the first version was criticized for its poor quality. The ministry plans to issue a fresh tender for 5 million tablets to help bridge the digital divide as part of NMEICT, also called the ICT mission.

The NMEICT mission will slow down, said the second government official cited above. The Aakash project’s 700 crore budget could be cut in half, the official said.

Apart from the tablet, the ICT mission aims to establish virtual laboratories, promote the creation of open-source learning material and provide IIT classroom teaching to engineering colleges.

“Budget cuts for educational institutes are now happening across the globe. We are not a rich country and instead of complete state funding, elite institutes should be allowed to raise funds by themselves. This will bring more fiscal discipline," said Narayanan Ramaswamy, partner and head, education practice, at consulting firm KPMG. “There are some talks about floating education bonds and that should be encouraged."

Earlier, the government announced that funding for the National Skill Development Corporation will be cut by 1,000 crore. This will likely affect India’s skills-training initiative targeted at bridging the education-employment mismatch, Mint reported on 21 December.

The government won’t focus on expanding higher educational institutes but on improving their quality in the 12th Plan period (2012-17), according to the plan document.

In line with this, junior HRD minister Shashi Tharoor said on 29 December that the Kerala government’s proposal to set up an IIT was “unlikely to materialize" in the 12th Plan period.

The second government official said social sectors such as education, health may get their budgets cut. “We had put forward our point of view but the government’s stand is that there is a fund crunch," the official said.