Budget 2021: NEP plan, digital infrastructure; 8 key expectations of education sector
The Union Budget always takes the center stage in every formal and informal conversation, debate, or discussion, as the budget session draws near. The budget is not just a strategic investment roadmap released by the government for the upcoming financial year, it communicates the intent and stance of the Centre on the priority sectors and key financial and development goals.
Although the major policy event of the union government has ramifications and effects far beyond the financials, it has the power to elicit confidence and positive market sentiments, especially during times of distress.
Particularly in education, the policy initiatives and allocations in this year’s budget could be instrumental in ensuring the implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP-2020), the most ambitious endeavor that is expected to bring radical and progressive changes to prepare a robust education system framework for the future. The budget is expected to reiterate the administration’s resolve in the realisation of the promising policy.
Desperate times call for intense efforts. The budget this year would need to go through the test of effectiveness in confronting and overcoming unique challenges that would require specific and solid steps, especially in the education sector.
1. Bridging the digital divide
While students and academic institutions with adequate means and resources could transit towards the digital online mode of learning without much effort, students from disadvantaged groups, rural public education institutions, and small private institutions had to halt or discontinue operations due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown. This digital divide is getting translated into a deep skill gap, that would eventually contribute to rural unemployment and skill shortage.
2. Student and teacher safety
Even if the educational institutions reopen in an offline or hybrid mode of classroom study, they would be required to abide by the security protocols that would add to operational and financial overheads and expansion of infrastructure. As per a study by Oxfam, it was revealed that only 54% of schools have toilets, drinking water, and sanitisation facilities that could be deemed to be of satisfactory levels. Teachers in government schools don’t have access to health insurance and benefits.
3. Reviving lost enrolments and teachers’ jobs
The same study by Oxfam shared the finding based on a survey that teachers believe that around 30% of the students may not return even if the schools reopen and may even discontinue education with an expected increase in dropout rates. The goal to achieve a 50% Gross enrollment ratio by 2035 would require incessant efforts. Moreover, by 2030, India is expected to be the home of the largest population in the standard range of working age. Skilling of the workforce is essential.
Owing to the unique challenges, the expectations from the budget for reforms and stimulus to the sector are high. Here are the major ones:
Policy Reforms and Guidelines
A clear policy guideline and a detailed roadmap for spending strategically on NEP implementation through optimal resource allocation are expected to be elaborated upon in the budget speech.
- Policy reforms could be introduced to boost the ‘Study in India’ campaign, providing educational services to Asian and African countries.
- Policy and financial support for ‘Back to School’ programmes and campaigns to prevent dropouts must be provided.
- Allocation of benefits and policy interventions for gender and social inclusion in line with the recommendations in NEP 2020, to prevent the dropout of female students and disadvantaged students from schools and HEIs, due to COVID-19, would be a welcome step.
- Provision of support and development of a roadmap for implementation of Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan for the skilling of migrant laborers and workers.
- Provision for reduced GST slabs, loan subsidies, and tax exemptions and breaks for ed-tech startups and private educational institutions. Benefits could be provided to companies for the spending of CSR funds on education-based non-profits.
- Tax benefits could be offered to working professionals on enrollment in upskilling and adult/continuing education courses.
- Policy reforms could be introduced to promote the setting up of campuses of foreign universities in India and boost FDI in the sector.
- Provision of policy guidelines and incentives for contributing to the development of the National Research Foundation.
Although the challenges are complex and expectations from the budget are high, the budget needs to be a well-intended one in its approach and commitment to the development of the sector and the realisation of the vision of the NEP. We are hopeful and confident that the budget will be a step in the right direction.