Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Monday announced a marginal increase of 4.8 per cent in the overall budget for education, with a bigger thrust on improving higher learning. The government earmarked Rs 72,394 crore for education against Rs 69,074 (budget estimate) provided last year. Of this, Rs 28,840 crore went to higher education and Rs 43,554 crore to schools.
Apart from cornering a bigger chunk of the Rs 3,300-crore hike, higher education got a boost with the announcement of a new funding agency to finance infrastructure expansion and renovation of government institutions such as the IITs, IIITs, NITs, IISERs and different central universities.
“We have decided to set up a Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA)…a not-for-profit organisation that will leverage funds from the market and supplement them with donations and CSR funds,” Jaitley said in his Budget speech. “These funds will be used to finance improvement in infrastructure in our top institutions and will be serviced through internal accruals.”
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HRD Ministry officials said HEFA could be set up as a company under Section 8 of Companies Act, 2013, and chaired by a reputed banker. While HEFA will start with an initial fund of Rs 1,000 crore, an equal amount will be raised from five corporate donors, each contributing at least Rs 200 crore.
In wake of Indian universities and institutions of higher education lagging behind in international rankings, the Finance Minister also announced a new scheme to promote 10 public and as many private institutions to emerge as world-class teaching and research institutions. The HRD Ministry submitted a proposal to this effect to the PMO in November last year. The government is yet to work out the details of this scheme and identify the 20 institutions.
“These world-class universities can either be regulated by a new law or a new provision under the UGC’s regulations for deemed universities,” a source said. The idea, the source explained, is to provide these proposed public universities and private institutions more academic autonomy and liberty and “enable them to compete with other institutions internationally”.
Interestingly, the Narendra Modi government has revived a UPA-era proposal of establishing a digital depository for school leaving certificates, college degrees, academic awards and marksheets on the lines of a securities depository. In what also reflects this government’s focus on higher education, the IITs witnessed a hike of almost Rs 700 crore in their allocation. The Rashtriya Uchchtar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), a scheme focused on funding higher education in states, saw an increase of 18 per cent — from Rs 1,100 crore (budget estimate) in 2015-16 to Rs 1,300 crore this year.
No new IITs and IIMs were announced.
School education, on the other hand, saw only marginal changes. The government raised its allocation by Rs 1,335 crore, of which nearly Rs 1,000 crore went to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education For All) and the midday meal scheme.
The focus, Jaitley said, is on improving quality of school education. He announced setting up of 62 new Navodaya Vidyalayas.