Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, on Wednesday, presented budget on the backdrop of demonetisation. Looking at the upcoming elections in key stats, it was predicted that there would be some populist announcements in the budget.
Specifically, after the recent change in the HRD ministry leadership, it was expected that education sector will get some serious attention in budget 2017. During his speech, the Finance Minister quoted Swami Vivekananda – “The education which does not help the common mass of people to equip themselves for the struggle for life…is it worth the name?”
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However, barring announcement of national testing agency, the overall budget speech brought disappointment for the education sector.
Surprisingly, the Finance Minister skipped to mention the total outlay for education sector during the budget speech. Based on the data from Finance Ministry’s website for Union budget, Rs 79686 crore (against revised estimate of Rs 73599 crore for financial year 16-17) is allocated for education sector.
This is little more than 8 per cent increase in education sector budget allocation compared to last budget. However, looking at the implementation of the 7th Pay Commission with an increased salary burden, the education budget may come out as the same like last year. This year, the Finance Minister has allocated 3.711 per cent to education sector compared to 3.653 per cent of last budget.
Exact allocation for school and higher education can be analysed after receiving the fine print of the union budget.
Establishment of National Testing Agency remained the key takeaway for the education sector from the the budget’s speech. Jaitley announced the establishment of National Testing Agency (NTA), autonomous and self-sustained premier testing organisation, which will conduct all academic entrance examinations. It will free education bodies like Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) from conducting examinations so that they can focus on academics.
This is a welcome move, however, looking at the current complexity in conducting examinations, it will be interesting to see, whether the HRD ministry has the bandwidth to establish the central testing service organisation.
Reforming University Grants Commission (UGC) is another noticeable announcement. He spoke about greater autonomy to quality higher educational institutions.
The government will also set up two new AIIMS in Gujarat and Jharkhand which will increase medical seats by 5000. In the Indian healthcare sector which is operating at the shortfall of 5 lakh doctors, the addition of 5000 seats looks more of a populist announcement.
The Finance Minister also announced to establish 100 India International centres. It will be launched across the country for the youth to seek jobs outside India.
He also announced launch of SWAYAM platform. By leveraging information technology, the government will offer at least 350 online courses. Access to SWAYAM would be widened by linkage with DTH channels, dedicated to education.
He mentioned about the budget of Rs 2,200 crore for skill strengthening. As many as 3.5 crore youth to be trained under SANKALP programme launched by government. Special employment stimulus package for leather and textiles sectors, for new jobs creation. PM Kaushal Kendras to be extended to 600 districts.
Jaitley reiterated the government’s focus on assessment of education outcome, a key concern areas in the education sector. He also announced an innovation fund for the secondary education.
In last year budget, Hon’ble finance minister announced that the government create regulatory framework for 10 private and 10 public institutions to become world class. Education sector was expecting a special budgetary allocation to support such an ambitious plan. Further, education sector was expecting follow up announcement on Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA), which he announced during last budget.
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