Manish Thakur lists the important educational issues the upcoming budget needs to address
Education is the key driver for achieving a socio-economic transformation and a concerted policy focus on this sector is crucial for reaping the demographic dividend in the global knowledge economy.
Appreciably, the past few years have witnessed a sustained increase in budgetary allocation to education. During the 11th plan period (2007-2012), central expenditure on education grew at 25% per year. However, public expenditure on education as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) continues to hover around a meagre 4%.
Budget 2014 has to send out a definitive signal of the government's commitment to raise the public expenditure on education to 6% of the GDP, a nationally mandated goal ever since the recommendations of the Kothari Commission (1964-66).
Further, the budget also needs to cut down drastically on cess-driven allocations to education.
Ever since the education cess of 2% on income tax was introduced in the 200405 budget, and additional 1% in 2007-08, there has been a perception that the government is relying solely on cess-generated revenue and has gone easy on its allocations to education. This year's budget needs to dispel this notion.
An important factor to consider while deciding on the central expenditure towards education is the realignment of priorities between the states and centre.
State governments contribute to a larger chunk of public expenditure on education. However, three-fourth of the states' expenditure is on school education, with only a quarter of the sum going towards higher education.
In contrast, the centre spends close to half of its educational allocation on higher education and the remaining on elementary and secondary education.
Obviously, states require considerable financial support to improve the state of higher education. A synchronisation of priorities between the centre and state governments towards education is the need of the hour.
The centre should stay away from promoting centrally sponsored schemes, and focus on increasing budgetary allocations for the Rashtriya Uccha Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) with the purpose of offering strategic support for higher education institutions in states. This would mean embracing the politically uncomfortable decision of not squandering away the budgetary allocation to higher education on the promised IITs and IIMs in every state.
The 11th plan has witnessed the setting up of 65 new higher education institutions by the centre including 21 central universities, eight IITs and seven IIMs.
However, a budget goes beyond allocations and expenditures alone. It is about aligning a nation's financial resources with the larger vision of economic growth, social justice and inclusive development. One area that calls for generous budgetary support is the national mission for teachers and teaching, which includes many teaching quality improvement initiatives.
The 12th plan allocated a paltry sum of Rs 1,200 crore towards this programme at a time when the enhanced allocation was needed to boost the professional qualifications of a large number of teachers across the states. This, in turn, will enrich the learning outcomes in numerous government elementary schools.
It is likely that the budget will push for the setting up of newly-conceived community colleges, like what exists in the US. It would be good to remember that during the 11th plan the government could set up merely 45 of the 374 planned degree colleges.
Consolidation of the earlier initiatives, rather than spreading the resources thin, could well be a better strategy to achieve our educational goals. Underlining all our pretensions of becoming an economic powerhouse is the fact that the mean years spent in schooling in India is 5.12 years, well below China (8.17), and even Brazil (7.54).