Union Finance Minister while presenting her first budget 2019-20 sketched ambitious plans for the education sector. She also underlined the goals set in NEP and suggested that the budget estimates of 2019- 20 for the education sector were in line with the objectives contained in the NEP. But if we look at the financial provisions made in the budget we find that there is a mismatch.
The objectives highlighted during the budget speech or the ones contained in NEP need a more generous allocation. NEP is said to be teachercentric but the budget allocation for teacher training and adult education has drastically reduced from 871cr in 2018 – 19 to 125 cr this year. Budget allocation to UGC and AICTE has been reduced. IIM was given autonomy last year. It experiences a reduction in allocation from 1036 cr made last year to 445.5 cr this year. PM fellowship scheme fund has been reduced from 75 cr in 2018 -19 to 50 cr this year. Even 609 cr for research and innovation appears to be a great figure only in comparison to 350 cr allocated last year. The allocations did not match the ambitions last year and it does not match the ambitions this year either. The budget allocates 400cr (this is three times the revised estimates for the previous year) to create world-class institutions, remember it is institutions and not an institution, forces us to think about the seriousness of the government in this regard.
Why has this happened? Why budget estimates and the ambitions of the government regarding the education sector have failed to match particularly since 2014 – 15? The answer is very simple. Government spending on education during this period has substantially declined. From 3.8 % of the GDP in 2013 the budgetary allocation for education in India has come down to 2.4 % in 2019. In other words, government spending on education has declined from 6.5% of the total budget estimate in 2014 to 3.4% in 2019 or we can also say that government spending on education has declined from 1.06% of the Gross National Income in 2014 to below 0.5% in 2019. Even if we take the total budget estimate on higher education which stands at 38317cr as opposed to 35010cr. For the previous year indicating some increase, it is still only around 1.3% of the total budget estimate.
This makes it very clear as to where education actually is placed in the priority list of the NDA government. Longing for world-class institutes with tight fists is nothing but daydreaming.
The government announced a 10 percent reservation for EWS in higher educational institutions which resulted in an increase of 25 percent seats in the central universities. However, the budgetary allocation for these institutions didn’t see major changes from the last year.
Central Universities have been allocated 6484cr.which is hardly 7% more than the previous year. This increase will hardly be able to absorb normal inflationary impact on administrative and regular maintenance expenditure. Contrast this with what universities got after OBC reservation was introduced.
Government through its budget estimate on education seems to be suggesting that higher education instead of looking at direct government spending should be looking at HEFA. 17000cr. has been made available to HEFA and it is also anticipated that another 14000cr. will be made available through this window. Even this amount has been touted as government spending which is clearly not the case. Essentially it is asking the higher education sector to learn to survive on loans.