It has been 5 years since RTE (Right to Education) has become a law in India. When it was enacted, the UPA government had showcased it as a “game-changer” for the underprivileged students in India.
A key provision of this law was reservation of 25 per cent of the seats in schools to under-privileged students.
A recent study done by IIM-A and Central Square Foundation shows that only 29% of the 2.14 million seats reserved in the private sector for underprivileged have been filled.
There are wide variations – in Delhi, 92% of the seats were filled up and in UP, it was only 2%.
It would be worthwhile for all State governments who are below this national average of 29% to figure the best practices which have worked in States like Delhi and adopt these practices to lift their performance.
Hopefully, this national average of 29% will improve over the years to come.
Times Higher Education (THE) magazine has released its 2015 World Reputation Rankings. Harvard University has retained its top slot and the second rank is given to the University of Cambridge, followed closely by University of Oxford at the third position.
US universities continue to bag the top slot with 43 of the top 100 and 8 out of the top 10. UK universities have 12 of the top 100 rankings.
The world reputation ranking is based on worldwide survey of expert academic opinions and are based on more than 10,000 responses.
Predictably, none of the Indian universities have made it to this list of top 100. If only the IISc and IITs focus on improving the parameters on the basis of which this ranking is done, there is some chance of seeing an Indian university in this list soon
When the Finance Minister rose to present the Budget in the Parliament on 28th February, 2015, there were a lot of expectations from all sections of industry, including the education and skilling sector.
This was the first full Budget of the new government, under the backdrop of a strong GDP growth of 7.5 per cent and precipitous drop in oil prices. The Indian economy is truly in a “sweet spot” and if the fiscal deficit is handled well, it is now “ready to fly”.
There is strong push in the Budget on the infrastructure, social sectors and education and skilling. The Finance Minister has underlined the need to a strong push on public investment, due to the weak private investment in infrastructure via the PPP model. This is a modulation from the earlier policies where the thrust was exactly the opposite – public money was not available for huge investment required in infrastructure and hence, private investment had to step in.
There are a slew of announcements on increasing the social security net – increase in allocation to MNREGA, accidental death insurance of Rs. 2 lakhs for an annual premium of Rs. 12 and many more schemes – all designed to provide social security to the under-privileged.
The focus of the government on Education and Skilling continues in this Budget.
In the first few paras of the Budget, The Finance Minister has referred to the fact that 2022 is a historic year for India, being the 75th year of India’s independence and one of the stated items in the vision for 2022 is “Educating and skilling our youth to enable them to get employment is the altar before which we must all bow”. To achieve this, the stated goal is to have a senior secondary school within 5 kms of each child, upgrade 80,000 secondary schools and add or upgrade 75,000 junior/ middle schools to senior secondary level. The Finance Minister has also envisioned the need to improve quality and learning outcomes of education.
Skilling initiatives of the government which are presently dispersed across various Ministries will be consolidated under the National Skills Mission through the Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Ministry. This Mission will also standardize procedures and outcomes across 31 Sector Skill Councils. A new scheme (Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gramin Kaushal Yojana) has been announced to enhance employability of rural youth. Rs. 1,500 crores has been set apart in this budget for this scheme and, interestingly, disbursements will be made through a digital voucher directly into the qualified student’s bank account.
Availability of finance to students wanting to pursue Higher Education has never been easy in India. This Budget has made a bold announcement and hopefully, it ensures that no student is unable to pursue Higher Education due to lack of finance. A fully IT based Student Financial Aid Authority will be set up to administer and monitor scholarships as well as loans through the Pradhan Mantri Vidya Lakshmi Karyakram. Other than that, many new educational institutes (AIIMS, IIT, etc.) have been announced to be set up across India.
If the Finance Minister is able to implement a financial aid scheme for Higher Education, it will be the biggest game-changer for Higher Education!
The new HRD minister Smriti Irani is staring at multifarious challenges in her office. For one, she needs to prioritise the gargantuan problems facing the education sector. If she succeeds in making an impact, she can truly make a big difference to this sector and ensure that India reaps the benefit of a demographic dividend of a large and young population. India is at the crossroads of opportunities and challenges and hopefully, the new minister will grab the opportunities and make some path-breaking changes.
The BJP manifesto had covered a wide range of topics on skilling and education. Importantly, it had mentioned that public spending on education would be raised to 6% of GDP. Presently, it is around 3.2%-3.5%. If the new HRD minister manages to get a budget allocation of 6%, it can truly revolutionise this sector. By doubling the amount of funds, it can vastly improve access to the “last man in the line” and also the quality of education.
There is a huge shortage of teachers across all the sectors. As per an analysis done by Technopak in 2013, India requires a faculty totaling 1.16 million for all the Universities. As against this, India has a total faculty strength of 810,000, which means that there is presently a shortage of 350,000. In 2020, the shortage will rise to 1.38 million. The BJP manifesto has made a repeated mention of shortage of teachers and the need to address it. We will have to wait for the execution plan that Irani rolls out for this.
So, what are the other initiatives which need the urgent attention of the new minister? Availability of finance for education needs urgent attention. In most developed countries, if a deserving student is unable to finance her education, she gets financing on easy terms, without collaterals. In India, education financing is largely based on collaterals provided by the student—invariably, by her parents. This should stop. Collateral-free financing can be made available if a robust framework of credit guarantee funds is made operational.
Our Prime Minister is known to be an innovative thinker and one who comes up with bold, original ideas. In this context, is it possible to conceive the idea of allowing “for profit” institutions in the education sector? Why not? In Gujarat, the Modi government has been aggressively pursuing privatisation, even in the education sector, and allowing “for profit” institutions will become a game-changer.