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Education in the Union budget

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A narrow and badly lit classroom at a government primary school in Hyderabad. The allocation for elementary education saw a meagre 15 per cent increase in the current budget.
A narrow and badly lit classroom at a government primary school in Hyderabad. The allocation for elementary education saw a meagre 15 per cent increase in the current budget.

Jandhyala B.G. Tilak

The proposals do not indicate any special significance being attached to education.

One looks forward to the Finance Minister's budget speech with a hope that it spells some new major initiatives and schemes for development, and that it might promise any major allocation of resources to any sector, besides fresh tax proposals. In the case of education sector, one might feel disappointed at the proposals made in the Union budget for 2010-11 on both counts. No new initiatives are proposed; no major reference to the importance of education is made, except referring to the enactment of the Right to Education. The proposals on allocation of resources also promise little new.

Modest increase

The total plan allocation for education sector has been raised by 15 per cent to Rs.42,000 crore, from Rs.36,400 crore proposed in the 2009-10 budget. (The revised estimate for 2009-10 is only Rs.30,600 crore.) At the current rate of inflation, the increase is very modest, if not insignificant.

The allocation for elementary education is increased from Rs. 21,700 crore in 2009-10 to Rs. 25,000 crore in current budget — a meagre 15 per cent increase in nominal terms. This includes an allocation of Rs.15,000 crore for Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA), the major flagship programme for universalisation of elementary education and Rs. 9,300 crore for the national scheme of mid-day meals — together accounting for 97 per cent of the total allocation for SSA. Among others, strengthening of teachers training institutions and quality education in madrassas are the two notable budget items that account for the rest. The increases in allocation of resources to SSA, the mid-day meal scheme and the elementary education as a whole seem to be only token increases. The allocations pale further, given the context of enactment of the Right to Education legislation by Parliament only a few months ago, which promised substantial improvement in access, quality and other dimensions of elementary education and provision of quality education to every child as a fundamental right. The implementation of the Right to Education Act requires enormous resources. Conservative estimates put the requirement as Rs. 171,000 crore for a five-year period, but the government seems to have decided, as per the media reports, to provide only Rs. 32,000 crore for the remaining two years of the eleventh five year plan for SSA, which is considered the main or the only scheme for the implementation of the Act. It appears the Ministry had sought an allocation of Rs. 40,000 crore in the current budget, and the Planning Commission seemed to have indicated its willingness to allocate Rs.35,000 crore; and the Ministry of Finance has allocated finally only Rs.15,000 crore for SSA and Rs. 9,300 crore for midday meals.

In fact, two thirds of the total allocation to elementary education comes from the Prarambhik Siskha Kosh, which is essentially made of the revenues received from education cess for elementary education. Though the District Primary Education Project (DPEP) has been virtually closed, reliance on external assistance for elementary education continues. External aid for elementary education increased from Rs. 683 crore in 2004-05 to Rs. 1,584 crore in 2008-09. In the allocation made for SSA in the current budget foreign aid which is of the tune of Rs. 1,028 crore, constitutes about seven per cent; in addition, foreign aid forms 90 per cent of the Rs. 46 crore proposed for Mahila Samkhya.

On the whole, the overall allocations to elementary education may put serious question marks on the seriousness of the Union government on the implementation of the Right to Education Act, which is yet to be notified.

The allocation to secondary education was least raised — from Rs. 4,600 crore to Rs. 4,700 crore. For universalisation of secondary education, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyan (RMSA) was launched recently. While Rs. 1,354 crore was allocated to it in the last year's budget, only 40 per cent was spent as per the revised estimate. Navodaya Vidyalayas, RMSA and the scheme of setting up of 6,000 model schools at block level as a bench mark of excellence can be regarded as the three major budget items in secondary education in the current budget. Of the 6,000 model schools, 3,500 were to be set up under public-private partnerships modes which are yet to be finalised.

The National Means-cum-Merit Scholarship scheme was launched in 2008-09, according to which a scholarship of Rs. 6,000 per annum per head is awarded to meritorious students of economically weaker sections to enable them to continue their studies and complete at least senior secondary education. In 2009-10 Rs. 750 crore was allocated to the scheme. But as per the revised estimates only Rs. 253 crore was spent. One might expect such a scheme that aims at promoting equity and merit, to receive serious attention in the budget allocations. Surprisingly, the allocation to the scheme has been slashed in the current budget to Rs. 90 crore — to about one-third of the revised estimate and 12 per cent of the of the budget estimate of 2009-10.

Allocation to adult education has been more than doubled increasing it from Rs. 450 crore to Rs. 1,300 crore, the major beneficiary being the recently restructured and renamed Sakshar Bharat Programme.

For higher education

Allocations to higher education (general and technical) are also modest; they increased from the budget estimate of Rs. 9,600 crore in 2009-10 to Rs. 11,000 crore in the present budget. The total plan and non-plan allocation to technical education increased from Rs. 5,400 crore to Rs. 6,000 crore. For setting up of new IITs, again Rs. 400 crore has been allocated, like in the previous year. A significant increase in the allocation has been made for upgrading existing/setting up of new polytechnics. An allocation of Rs. 220 crore has been made for the same, compared to Rs. 45 crore in the previous budget. Non-plan allocations to the UGC, IITs and IIMs etc., have been reduced, though there is a small increase in plan allocations. This might mean that the higher educational institutions will need to either raise student fees or face a difficult situation when it comes to maintaining their infrastructure.

More importantly, the budget allocations do not indicate any major restructuring of the University Grants Commission (UGC) or the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), as the total plan and non-plan allocation to the UGC remains more or less the same around Rs. 7,300 crore and that to the AICTE nearly Rs. 200 crore. There is, of course, a separate provision of Rs. 40 crore for the establishment of tribunals, accreditation authority, the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER) and National Finance Corporation. The draft bills to set up some of these bodies are believed to be at an advanced stage, getting clearance from the cabinet committee etc.

The proposed NCHER is to subsume the role of UGC, AICTE and other similar bodies. Further, in recent years organisations like the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) were subject to a thorough review and experts have recommended major revamping of the organisation and its institutes. The somewhat stable allocation of Rs.50 crore to ICSSR and equally stable allocations to other research institutes indicate no major thinking on the development of research in social sciences in these organisations.

The only scheme that attracted a huge allocation in higher education — Rs.500 crore is the scheme of interest subsidy to educational loans. This scheme, which seems not to have taken off during the last year, is meant to provide subsidy to the students of weaker sections to the extent of interest payments for the duration of the studies. While the scheme needs to be welcomed, it also indicates the government's intention to increasingly rely on student loans as an effective method of funding higher education, rather than providing general subsidies or scholarships.

On the whole, the proposals made in case of education in the 26th Feb 2010 Union budget, to say the least, do not indicate any special significance being attached to education — neither to the Right to Education Act, nor to the recent proposals on universalisation of secondary education, nor to the reforms being discussed in higher education.

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