Where does education sector stand in Union Budget 2017?

While experts continue to debate over the Union budget 2017, and the benefits to various sectors and the changes the policies will eventually bring, Finance Minister Arun Jailtey’s take on the education budget adds up to the discussion.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley indicated that India’s education sector would take a reform path in 2017-18. This will include, focusing on learning assessment in schools, and overhauling 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”, Live Mint reported.

As per the announcement, this budget promises to emphasise on science education, flexibility in curriculum, and encourage creativity through “local innovative content.”

The minister has also spoken about an “innovation fund” for secondary education, and the need for “leveraging technology to take quality courses to the mass students base in 3,479 educationally-backward blocks”, the report states. The government will also be undertaking reforms in the University Grants Commission of India, for the benefit of the higher education sector.

According to the minister, good quality institution, for greater administrative and academic autonomy, good quality institutions would be set up. In reference to the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) Bill that promises to grant “complete autonomy” to the elite B-Schools, the minister delivered that, colleges will be provided with autonomous states, upon examining their accreditation and ranking.

However, for the school level educational reform, the budget has been unsatisfactory. “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”, the report mentions.

The Financial Express reported, “The allocation for children in this year’s Finance Bill remains stagnant, with a dismal 3.32% of the total Budget being allocated to them—a trend that has sadly remained unchanged in the last few years.”

Although the government has allocated around Rs 80,000 crore for the sector, experts suggest, it is only 10 percent higher than last year, stating, this number however big it looks on the face, in actuality is inadequate.

As per reports, “The Union Budget has fixed 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. But, of the total outlay, Rs46,356.25 is for the school sector and the rest for higher education.

On the other hand, the budget for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has gone up by Rs 1000 crore, and that for Rashtriya Madhayamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), teacher training and adult education has been improved by Rs 305 crore, as compared to the revised Budget estimate for FY17.

However, coming to the much debated and talked about mid-day meals scheme, which continues to face criticism since inception, has been given Rs 300 crore more.  In a statement to Moneycontrol, Rohin Kapoor, Director, Deloitte Haskins & Sells LLP said, “There has been shortage of funds, lack of quality control in schools and instances of vendors providing poor quality, sub-standard meals to kids. So, the entire implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has not come to fruition  as per the desired objectives of the government and the SSA allocation that has been increased by Rs 1,000 crore is clearly not enough to tackle these challenges.”

Yet, amid these discussions and considerations, there is hope. The Union Budget did promise to bring in reforms that will benefit the education space and create a pool of skilled labour for growth, if the government focuses on strict implementation of its reforms.

 

 

–          Arundhati Sarkar

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