The announcement of the Union Budget 2016, like all budgets before, was an opportunity for the country and its government to have a conversation about the priorities of the state. An increase in social sector spending was widely trumpeted but nothing significant is obvious when studying the actual document.
Education in India is mostly governed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). The ministry is split into two departments – School Education and Higher Education. The following chart shows the budgetary allocation for the two departments over the last three years:
The total allocation for education was 72,394 crore which after adjusting for inflation might barely be an increase over last year’s allocation. The demand for 6% allocation which has been the benchmark put forward by various members of the education sector still hasn’t been met.
From the budget for the Department of School Education and Literacy, the two major programs remain the same as the previous years – the SarvaShikshaAbhiyan (SSA) and the Mid-Day Meal Programme.
They both received very marginal increase over previous year allocations. In fact, this year’s allocation for the SSA is lower than the allocations for 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15. The NDA government has drastically lowered allocation by more than 2000cr each year for the last two years so this increase barely makes a dent.
The SSA is the government’s primary mechanism for implementing the Right To Education (RTE) norms but has consistently been handled poorly. Its activities range from paying teachers’ salaries to maintenance of infrastructure of schools to uniforms and books for students. Accountability Initiative (AI), a project under the Centre for Policy Research, recently released a report analysing the SSA’s release of funds and expenditure. In Tamil Nadu, till September 2015, the centre had released 40% of its funds but the state had released only 23% according to the report.
The report also contains the results of a primary survey conducted by AI across 300 schools in 10 districts in 5 states. Tamil Nadu wasn’t one of the states in the study but one can expect the results to be similar if not worse. Some of the findings of the survey were:
- By December 2015, 31% of schools still hadn’t received any annual grant.
- Out of 9% of schools that required a girls’ toilet, only 1% received a grant to build it.
- Almost all schools received textbooks with most of them also receiving uniforms.
- 39% of teachers employed on a contractual basis suffered three month delays in receiving their salary. No such delay existed for regular teachers and headmasters/headmistresses.
ArunJaitley casually stated in his speech that “After universalisation of primary education throughout the country, we want to take the next big step forward by focusing on the quality of education. An increasing share of allocation under SarvaShikshaAbhiyan will be allocated for this.” While one does applaud the idea of quality improvement, whether primary education has in fact been universalized is not clear and also how exactly will SSA’s budget be rejigged for quality improvement when it’s already underfunded remains a mystery.
The Department of Higher Education’s budget is primarily tuned towards the funding of the 40+ central universities, the 14+ IITs, the 30+ NITs. No vision seems to be available from the government with regard to the future of higher education in the country at all. The two ‘innovative’ ideas that were put forth both seem extremely suspect.
The first is the formation of a Higher Education Funding Authority to be setup with an initial capital base of Rs. 1000 crore and supplemented by CSR donations and investments in the market. The purpose is “to finance improvement in infrastructure in our top institutions”. This is a reiteration of the old policy of concentrating on premier institutions while allowing every other academic body to flounder and drown under rising costs and ageing facilities. Such a policy will further exacerbate the huge inequality of opportunity in the country.
The second is a plan that states, “an enabling regulatory architecture will be provided to ten public and ten private institutions to emerge as world-class Teaching and Research Institutions. This will enhance affordable access to high quality education for ordinary Indians. A detailed scheme will be formulated.” What ‘enabling regulatory architecture’ could mean in government-speak is a mystery and we must simply wait for the ‘detailed scheme’ to emerge.
This lack of detail and hand-waving of problems typifies most new schemes introduced by the budget. It does not inspire hope but only the opposite as the apathy and lack of commitment to genuine solutions seems more and more obvious.