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Budget: An expression of our values and aspirations

Do we ever follow the 50/20/30 budget rule advocated by Senator Elizabeth Warren in her book “All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan.”? The basic rule is to divide after-tax income, spending 50% on needs and 30% on wants while allocating 20% to savings. This possibly would have maintained fiscal prudence. But then, with people centric policies and electoral pressures, no government would ever venture to follow the advice. Be that as it may.


NDA I allotted 1104 Billion Rupees (BR) out of a total budget of 17949 BR to HRD in its first year of 2014-15 which was a promising 6.15%. In the subsequent years 15-16, 16-17 and 17-18, it went down from to 5.44% to 4.68% to 3.71% respectively even as total budget in 17-18 went up to 21467 BR which was a good 19% rise on its figures three years earlier. It is worth noting that the gross national income in the same period went up from 104122 BR to 128350 BR which was a good 22% rise. Did public spending offset the government drop in spending? Whatever be the explanation, the steady drop was a concern.


In the budget presented in July by NDA II, the Centre allocated a total of Rs 94,853.64 crore, an increase of almost 10,000 crores from the Revised Budget of the last year, which stood at Rs 83,625.86 crore. Rs 56,536 crore went for School Education and Literacy, and Rs 38,317 crore to the Department of Higher Education.


The Budget has some good ideas to debate on and some with potential not explored enough. For a start, replacing the UGC by a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) is a much-needed reform that can promote greater autonomy and focus on better academic outcomes with facilitating and enabling provisions. It appears that HECI may not have financial powers, given that the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), a joint venture of MHRD, and Canara Bank has already been setup for financing creation of capital assets in premier educational institutions. Further the scope of HEFA has been greatly expanded to cover school education and institutes under Ministry of health. Whereas HEFA seeks to develop the top end institutions like IIT’s, IIIT’s, AIIMS and others into world renowned institutions, it is debatable if funds alone would do this. A lack of synergy between HECI and HEFA must not become one of ‘passing the buck’ game for effective R&D is greatly intertwined with finances.


The budget speech referred to a new National Education Policy (NEP) that is expected to propose major changes in school and higher education. The draft policy released earlier, recommended extending the RTE ambit to secondary education, a move that could ensure compulsory education for children till the age of 18, from the existing 14, a much needed intervention if education must reach all.


One of the major disconnect of Indian Universities has been the research quotient of our Universities and disconnect with the Industry. Though research must be relevant to national needs, it must not throttle freedom to research areas that may not necessarily appeal to a science and technology-based audience. Innovation, variously understood by different stakeholders has always been on the side-lines. A total amount of Rs 608.87 crore has been allocated for ‘Research and Innovation’. This is an increase from Rs 243.60 crore estimated to be spent in 2018-19. The draft NEP’s recommendation of a new authority, the National Research Foundation (NRF) though is a good idea, could easily be limited in effectiveness, given that HEFA also has similar functions. However, the devil is in implementation. Too rigorous a regulatory framework may be counterproductive for research and innovation, both of which thrive on free enterprise. Integrating funds available with all Ministries in NRF may raise the availability but will it meet the needs of all stakeholders is a question that will need to be meticulously addressed.


A great potential exists for transforming India’s higher education to one of the globally best recognised education systems. It is creditable that three of our institutions, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi and IISc figured in the QS World University Rankings. Future years will certainly see more making the grade. However, an amount of Rs 400 crore for “World Class Institutions” is a tad too small, though it is an increase from the Rs 128.90 crore allocated for the same in the last year’s revised budget.


Universities which produce transformational research outputs and develop nation’s competitiveness in the global knowledge economy are World‐Class Universities as described by Hsiou-Hsia Tai Professor, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. In the past decade, the development of world‐class universities has been a central policy concern of various stakeholders across the globe, and an intense debate among the world academic community. Revealing as it is, it took more than a hundred and fifty years for institutions such as MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Caltech, Cambridge, Oxford, UCL or an Imperial College in London to be regarded as world class universities. Central to that development has been very generous funding both from the State and the private enterprise.


‘Study in India’ to bring in foreign students to higher educational institutions is a long-awaited move. It helps internationalisation that our Institutions lack. This However, must be followed up with an international level test on the lines of GRE/GMAT that is aimed at bringing in students from across the globe. Faculty from best of the institutions across the globe to teach in our Institutions also must be vigorously pursued. A reference was also made to SWAYAM platform for open online courses from Class IX to post-graduation free of cost, which is an enabling idea to reach education to the unreached.


A very passionate skilling program for 10 million youth is just what the country needs. However, the industry-relevant training through the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana should have been institutionalised through the school education for better dividends. A focus on ‘new-age skills’ like Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Big Data, 3D Printing, Virtual Reality and Robotics certainly enhance employability skills but will be better left to the private sector. Public spending on high end skills may not be a good idea though no budget has ever satisfied everyone. It tells us what we can’t afford, but doesn’t keep us from buying it.

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