The Kerala government has decided to hike the allocation for the higher education sector in this budget. A look at how some of the proposals would benefit universities in the State.

A turning point in the development of the higher education sector…" That is how the Finance Minister T. M. Thomas Isaac termed his budget for 2010-11. As substantiation for this, he pointed out in his budget speech that there would be a 112 per cent increase in allocation—from Rs.57 crore last year to Rs.121 crore—to higher education in 2010-11 .

In the same breath Mr. Isaac also reminded the Assembly that during 2001-02 to 2005-06, the average annual expenditure for higher education was Rs.23 crore. The normal increase in Non-Plan grants to universities is 10 per cent. But no increase was granted during the above-mentioned period. “As against the expenditure of Rs.479 crore in 2001-02, the expenditure in 2005-06 was only Rs.486 crore. This is the root cause of the financial crisis in the higher education sector,” the budget speech noted.

Seen against this backdrop the hike in allocation for higher education is substantial and has not come a day too soon.

An avid user of libraries, particularly the Kerala University Library, Mr. Isaac has shown readiness to grant special funds for library modernisation. Not long ago, he gave a special grant of Rs.3 crore to the Kerala University Library. The budget promises Rs.30 crore for the modernisation of all university libraries in the State. Particular emphasis would be given on setting up a library for Kannur University.

The Non-Plan grant for the Kannur University would be enhanced by 20 per cent while all the other universities would get a hike of 10 per cent. In addition to this, Rs.50 crore would be given as special grant to universities. This money would be divided among varsities on the basis of a ‘transparent formula' suggested by the Rabindran Nair Committee.

The additional income generated by a university, its backwardness and academic attainments would be critical components of that formula. All this put together would mean that universities would actually get a 15 per cent hike in Non-Plan grants this year.

The budget promises Rs.11.5 crore for betterment of college buildings, laboratories and hostels. Moreover, the government would give guarantee for universities to avail of loans for constructing revenue-generating infrastructural facilities such as hostels and guest houses. The income from such facilities would have to be deposited in an escrow account by universities.

The universities would get a special grant of Rs.4.5 crore for schemes to attract scholars from outside and for providing special financial assistance to talented individuals. While Rs.2 crore would be given to six universities for computerising their examination wings, the Sanskrit University would get Rs.1 crore for this purpose.

Crucial issues

Academics and university officials that The Hindu-EducationPlus contacted for their reactions were unanimous in their view that the spurt in allocation for the universities is both unprecedented and unexpected. The additional funds, including those for modernising libraries, would help varsities shore up their finances in a substantial manner, they said. However, many of them also expressed the fear that the lion's share of the increase in allocation would still go as administrative expenditure, salaries and pension.

The University of Kerala, for instance, urgently requires Rs.14 crore so that it can disburse pension benefits to 130 employees retiring in March 2010. Thereafter the varsity would require Rs.6 crore for disbursing pension. Till last year the university's deficit in the conduct of examinations was Rs.12 crore. The fee hike implemented recently has brought this down to about Rs.6 crore. The varsity's finance wing has estimated that at least Rs.5 crore would be required for the roll out of the credit and semester system. Moreover, it would require over Rs.7 crore for implementing the latest UGC pay packet for academics in its teaching departments.

This time the University of Kerala expects a plan outlay of about Rs.13 crore—an increase of about Rs.7 crore—and a Non-Plan grant increase of Rs.13 crore. This coupled with the funds for exam computerisation, library modernisation and the special grant is expected to fetch the university about Rs.30 crore. Since the government has accepted the recommendations of the Rabindran Nair Committee and has decided to set up a Rs.100 crore corpus for a pension fund for universities, each university would now have to deposit 10 per cent of its salary expenditure in this account. For the University of Kerala this works out to Rs.7 crore a year. So, at least for the State's mother university, a good portion of the additional funds received from the government is already ‘committed expenditure.'

The budget speech says that if universities follow strict financial discipline and if they raise more ‘own funds' the government may given them more assistance. The question being asked by academics is ‘are the State's universities capable of raising own funds to such an extent that it would substantially supplement government grants?'

The budget speech also says that grants mentioned above would only be given subject to certain conditions.

On the basis of computerisation, unified work study to fix the staff pattern has to be conducted urgently. New posts will be granted on this basis only. At any cost, no post shall be created without the prior approval of government.

A comprehensive Action Taken Report on the reports of both AG and Local Fund Authorities for the last 10 years should be furnished within in a period of six months.

Appointments and promotions of aided college teachers being processed now in the Directorate of Collegiate Education is unnecessarily repeated in universities too. This system has to be dispensed with.

Three separate accounts need be opened for Plan, Non-Plan and for self-financing institutions

A definite percentage of the examination expenditure should be raised from the examination fee.

Autonomy will have to be given to University-Inter University centres to mobilise funds independently.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Kerala A. Jayakrishnan pointed out to The Hindu-EducationPlus that a university can bring in substantial additional funds mainly by increasing fee and by engaging in consultancy work.

“When I tried to rationalise the examination fee for degree courses—last fixed the 1970s—there was a lot of protest. We had to roll back the hike by 25 per cent. For one examination that costs us Rs.160 we are now taking only Rs.30 from a student. So there is a limit to which we can raise money this way. I understand that IIT Delhi brings in Rs.100 crore a year by way of consultancy. But can our teaching departments do that yet?” he reasoned. The conditional allocation of grants has also come in for criticism from former member of the Planning Board and CMP leader C. P. John.

‘Facilitate grants'

While appreciating the substantial jump in allocation to the higher education sector, Mr. John pointed out that instead of asking universities to raise funds of their own, the Finance Minister should have given ‘facilitating grants' designed to enable universities to start earning their own money. “Funds should have been given for capacity building in universities. Then you can ask them to start bringing in funds. Here the problem is that the system is weak. It cannot be burdened with additional resource mobilisation,” he explained.