Union budget 2021-22: 6% cut in fund allocation for education termed as rationalisation by education officials

The government has slashed the education budget by 6 per cent along with a slew of announcements. While experts have lauded most of the announcements, some of them have debated about how the low allocation is going to meet sectoral expectations.

   
Education Budget 2021 Reaction

The ed-tech segment flourished last year and educational institutes saw an increased usage of technology in teaching-learning mechanisms. However, the sector did not remain unaffected by the impact of the pandemic. While the budget 2021-22 gave prominence to other sectors for their revival, it slashed about 6 per cent allocation of funds for education.

Over 200 million children have lost a complete year of formal schooling due to lockdown imposed since the peak of pandemic. This situation is worse in smaller towns and cities of India where even affordable private schools have struggled to provide requisite online learning. This is due to lack of technology infrastructure in schools and unequipped teachers.

In addition to students and parents, teachers too have faced the brunt of pandemic due to heavy job losses and increased mental stress in training themselves in technological platforms. Overall, the education industry also witnessed job losses, incurred financial losses due to uncollected fees, and experienced learning gaps due to poor IT infrastructure. Stakeholders were expecting measures related to these aspects for revival of education as a sector.

The education budget this year was rather cut short by 6.13 per cent as compared to the allocation in the previous year’s budget. The fund allocated to the Ministry of Education is Rs 93,224 crore. It comprises of Rs 54,874 crore for Department of School Education and Literacy and Rs 38,350 crore for the Department of Higher Education. In 2020-21, the budgeted estimate for the Ministry of Education was Rs 99,312 crore, which was revised to Rs 85,089 crore (Revised Estimate).

Here is a quick glance on what the education sector has received in the union budget 2021-22.

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Experts have lauded most of the announcements to strengthen the school structure; while some of them have debated about how low allocation is going to meet the sectoral expectations.

Comprehensive schemes for schools and higher education

Dr. Bijaya Kumar Sahoo, Advisor, Odisha Adarsha Vidyalaya Sangathan in Government of Orissa and Founder of SAI International Education Group has stated that the budget has focused on qualitative strengthening of over 15,000 Schools across India under National Education Policy. “An umbrella structure will be created for central higher education in various cities,” he says.

According to him, announcement on 750 eklavya schools and increase in the expenditure for tribal schools will fuel the growth of education in rural areas.  Government proposes Rs 3000 crore to be sanctioned towards upskilling and Rs 30000 crore for R&D over 5 years. 

He further adds, “The budget allocation in Padhna Likhna Abhiyan has been increased from Rs. 95.25 crore (RE 2020-21) to Rs. 250 crore in BE 2021-22 (an increase of Rs. 154.75 crore) by 162.47 per cent. This will further lead to infrastructural (both digital and non-digital) enhancement. India’s focus on research and development with an allocation of 50,000 crores for National Research Foundation will certainly help in developing urban India.”

Dr. Niranjan Hiranandani, Provost – HSNC University has also lauded the futuristic measures, “The modern outlook and approach for the education sector is opening floodgates to reinvigorate human capital on a serious note. The outlay drawn will pave the path for extensive initiatives such as Rashtriya Shiksha Mission. Its extended support continues for primary education and for tribal areas as well as for underprivileged.”

Similarly, Prof (Dr.) Sanjiv Marwah, Director, JK Business School believes that this budget has tried to address various facets of education as a sector. He says, “The budget has emphasized the recent trend of tinkering at problems that blight the Indian education system. Measures such as establishing 100 new Sainik Schools and 750 Elavya Model schools will have a great impact on the school education.”

According to him, legislation related to Higher Education Commission of India will resolve most of the challenges faced by higher education in our country. “The budget consists of appropriate strategies which will help in speedy implementation of NEP. The development of the National Research Foundation for which an outlay of Rs.50,000 crore over five years has been announced which is the most lauded effort,” he says.

Piyush Bhartiya, Co-founder of AdmitKard, an ed-tech startup also hailed decision on Higher Education Commission. He says, “Once in place, it will address challenges related to quality of education, accreditation, regulation, and funding. This is expected to act as a catalyst in connecting the entire higher education system in India and abroad.” 

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Measures to strengthen skills and trainings

The union budget also made a reference of multi-national partnerships to strengthen skills and training. An initiative in partnership with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to benchmark skill qualifications, assessment, and certification, accompanied by the deployment of certified workforce was announced. A Training Inter Training Programme (TITP) between India and Japan to facilitate transfer of Japanese industrial and vocational skills was also announced.

Commenting on it, Rishabh Khanna, Cognitive Scientist & Founder of Suraasa, an ed-tech and job-tech platform for teachers’ learning opines, “International partnerships are pivotal for India to become a global workforce supplier. Partnerships with countries like UAE have been successful in improving the quality of learning outcomes with their licensing systems in past. Hence, these will bring our education system at par with international standards.” 

Another player Imarticus Learning which offers training in financial services and analytics is also of the same opinion. Nikhil Barshikar, Founder and MD says that Imarticus Learning has already established a presence in UAE this year. “Furthermore, Rs 3,000 crore has been allocated for up-skilling and training Indian Engineering Graduates and Diploma recipients in view of modernizing India’s domestic talent pool.”

The Central Government has also proposed the implementation of Data Analytics, Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning to upgrade functioning of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs which further comes as an opportunity. Specifically, the Ministry’s database management systems will be overhauled leading to increased efficiency in e-scrutiny, e-adjudication, e-consultation, and compliance management.

India has the world’s largest working-age population by 2030 which needs to be skilled for job. Commenting about this, Narayan Mahadevan, Founder, BridgeLabz mentions internship or apprenticeship is the best way to inculcate the required job skills. He says, “I wish the government had definitive plans to accomplish it and will also encourage such platforms that work towards skilling.”

Further talking on the replacement of ‘10+2’ structure with the ‘5+3+3+4’ model within NEP, Vivek Jain, Chief Business Officer of Shiksha.com claims, ”The budget gives a good boost to our education system. The replacement of ‘10+2’ structure with ‘5+3+3+4’ model has the potential to upgrade the Indian education system up to standards of developed countries.”

Cut in budgetary allocation termed as rationalisation

The primary attribute of education budget is allocation being cut short by 6.13 per cent. Experts of this arena are also of opinion that the budget has fell short on funding the momentum for digitisation in Indian education. This could have yielded far-fetching benefits for the young population.

Education ministry officials termed is as rationalization due to Covid-19 exigencies. If you look at the funds, the Department of School Education has been given Rs 54,873 crore which is a decrease from Rs 59,845 crore allocated in the budget of 2020. The allocation for Department of Higher Education is also less than the previous year’s funds which is Rs 38,350 crore from Rs 39,466 crore.

Manit Jain, Chairman, FICCI ARISE comments, “In order to fulfil objectives established by the National Education Policy expenditure for the education sector need to go up substantially. Given the economic crisis that we are in due to COVID-19, it is high time that the state and central governments invite private capital to invest in education.”

Speaking on the same lines, Vishnu Karthik, CEO Xperiential Learning Systems and Director, The Heritage School reclaims, “Education sector has been seriously hit post-covid-19 both in terms of financial sustainability and also in terms of learning outcomes. This budget has not announced anything specific to offset the impact of COVID-19. We hoped to see more clarity about setting up institutions to strengthen assessments on critical skills enumerated by NEP.”

Along with this, programmes such as mid-day meal and Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan funds have also been cut. Mid-day meal programme is getting Rs 11,500 crores this year which is less than the revised estimates of last year Rs 12,900 crores. Whereas, the latter programme gets Rs 31,050 crore also low than last year’s Rs 38,751 crores fund. The total National Education Mission allocation that includes teacher’s education has also decreased from Rs 38,860.50 crores to Rs 31,300.16 crores.

FM in her budget speech spoke about new NEP, which calls for strengthening of 15,000 schools. However, FM did not clarify about names of such schools. Meanwhile, this will be only a per cent of total schools in India. In fact, there is also lack of clarification on re-opening of schools. Meanwhile, other stakeholders have also expressed their concerns about the decreased allocation.

Kounal Gupta, Founder & CEO, Henry Harvin Education, an organisation for professional and technical certifications in India says, “Despite steps taken for betterment of the educational ecosystem, we feel that the budget lacked specific mentions for higher education. Hence, it will be interesting to see the implementation of new laws that lay more focus on the higher education system.”

Ankit Arora, Founder at Saarthi Education points out there was a need for a special allocation in budget promoting online education in rural areas. “However, allocation of Rs 99,300 crore for education shows that the country will have a more progressive 2021. But, no specific guidelines have been stated around the formation of local bodies with dedicated funds in terms of rural education and education for underprivileged section,” he opines.

While most educators are happy with the announcements for FY 2021-22, technological expectations are yet to be met for the ailing education sector. At the same time, there are too many loopholes to talk about. The budget talks about establishing 100 Sainik Schools which will be set up with the aid of private institutions and NGOs. Experts question the intent behind this and are doubtful about the role of private players in this.

In addition to this, no relief measures are announced on the consumer front in a sector where demands are never decreasing. Expenditure for parents is increasing every year with ever increasing fees and other education related expenses. While there should be stricter norms and bodies for regulating such decisions, measures to enhance quality of government schools and teachers should also be taken.