The budget allocation for the education sector may go up by 6-8% in 2020-21 to touch the ₹1-trillion mark, as the government’s focus is back on improving the education ecosystem.
In her budget proposals on 1 February, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman may announce more funds for a higher education research fund and for completing the work of centrally-funded higher educational institutions, which have been established in last 10 years, including new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and central universities, two government officials said requesting anonymity.
She might also announce the setting up of a chain of central schools for the underprivileged, a bulk of which may come up in aspirational districts.
“Last time the budget allocation was little more than ₹94,000 crore and this may go up to touch the ₹1-trillion mark. The exact amount of reduction in the revised budget for 2019-20 is not known, but the overall allocation may increase between 6% and 8%," said the first official.
The school sector will get a lion’s share like in previous years, but the budget may emphasize on improving the quality of education right from elementary to tertiary levels, said the second official.
India’s education sector, with more than 1.4 million schools and 51,000 colleges and universities, is one of the largest in the world, but quality remains a prickly issue. Several studies have shown how Indian students face a learning deficit in the entire education supply chain.
Between 25% and 75% of school children in the four-eight year age group do not have age-appropriate cognitive and numeracy skills, making for a massive learning deficit at a very early stage, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) released on 14 January.
Along with the school meal programme, the budget may allocate more funds for the K-12 school programme, Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, a two-year-old central scheme that amalgamates several school programmes, including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the second official added.
“If a sizable portion of a person’s income is used for education and health expenses, where is the money to spend to boost consumption in an economy such as ours. It is thus imperative to increase government spending on education," said Anil Sood, co-founder, Institute for Advanced Studies in Complex Choices, a education and policy think tank based in Hyderabad.
Capacity and quality at state-funded institutions have to be improved with the help of a higher education budget, said Sood, a former professor of the Administrative Staff College of India, New Delhi. “Despite the current economic tightrope, higher social sector spending could help India harness its demographic bulge," he added.
Budget 2020 is likely to bump up allocations for research and innovation, considering that the scope of the PM fellowship scheme has been expanded. Besides, top institutions, including the IITs, are aiming to attract foreign students to pursue doctoral degrees and offer them respectable monthly stipends, said the second official. The budget may also increase allocation for teachers’ training initiatives.