Saturday, March 06, 2010

Union Budget 2010-11: Education sector neglected again

The “growth and consumption-driven” and “forward- looking” Union Budget for 2010-2011 announced by the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has yet again shown a lack of steam addressing the challenges confronting the higher education sector in the country. Though the Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal has made elaborate plans to increase the number of universities and other higher educational institutions in the country, the budget saw only a paltry Rs. 40 crore (Rs. 400 million) being set apart for starting an institution for National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER). The total allocation for the higher education sector is Rs 10,996 crore (Rs. 109.66 billion). Yet again the recommended spending of six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, as envisaged by the National Policy of Education, formulated by the central government in 1986 has been given a short shrift.

Though there has been an increase in allocation for the elementary sector from Rs. 26,800 crore (Rs. 268 billion) in 2009- 10 to Rs. 31,036 (Rs. 310.36 billion), the money will not be sufficient enough to effectively implement the Right to Education (RTE) Act passed by the Government. Even "Sarva SIksha Abhiyan", a centrally supported scheme aimed at achieving universal elementary education and instrumental in implementing the Right to Education Act, has received only marginal increase in funding with some Ministry officials expressing disappointment. Estimates from the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) under the 11th Five Year Plan alone put spending on Right to Education at Rs. 173,000 crores (Rs. 1730 billion).

Predictably, the budget has evoked mixed reaction from educationists with some of them expressing their concern at the lack of sufficient funds for the sector. Ashok Mittal, Chancellor, Lovely Professional University felt that the government should have spent more on higher education thereby creating a large network of universities and colleges equipped with the best of physical and learning infrastructure. The allocation of Rs. 31,036 crore to school education is a worthy attempt by the Finance Minister to increase literacy rate in India. However, the point is whether the money allotted will be used judiciously in enhancing the quality of school education. Efforts have also been made to ensure that maximum students have access to quality education through low interest and long term loans, said Mittal.

The reduction in tax slabs will benefit nearly 60 per cent of the tax payers, leaving them with more money to spend on education and health care. By allocating 46 per cent of the total budget outlay to infrastructure, the finance minister has hit the bull’s eye. “The Finance Minister has tried to keep a balance,” said Rekha Sethi, Director General, All India Management Association (AIMA). “But we would have liked him to provide more for the higher education sector,” she said. The government instead of talking about opening innovation colleges, which will be accessible only to an elite few, should focus on starting niche courses. For instance, within the ambit of infrastructure you can focus on specialised courses in areas such as power and energy. Providing budgetary allocation for niche courses is the way forward, said Sethi.

C. S. Venkata Ratnam, Director, International Management Institute (IMI), New Delhi, was of the view that the overall increase in social sector allocation would benefit the education sector. It is gratifying to note that social sector reforms will be on the agenda. Social sector spending is up by Rs. 1.38 lakh crore, of this 31,000 will be spent on school education, said Ratnam.

According to Devi Singh, Director, Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (IIM-L), the finance minister has presented a very balanced budget. While the focus has been on infrastructure development and rural development, education has also retained its importance. The increase in budgetary allocation for school education and special grant from the centre for elementary education are very positive signs for the sector. The curtailment of fiscal deficit is a step in the right direction, he said.

Source: Mail Today, March 3, 2010 (Reported by Sangeeth Sebastian)

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