In this year’s union budget, the Finance Minister (FM) announced an increase of 7.1% in the allocation towards education. Overall, Rs 72,394 crore have been allocated in 2016-17 for education, as against Rs 67,585.5 crore in the revised estimate of 2015-16. The revised budget for 2015-16 reduced the overall education allocation to Rs 67,585.5 crore from Rs 69,074.76 crore as was pegged in the budget estimate.
Out of the total outlay of Rs 72,394 crore, Rs 43,554 crore has been earmarked for school education and literacy and Rs 28,840 crore for higher education. While school education saw an increase of 2.4%, higher education sector received a raise of 14.4% in the planned outlay as compared to the last year. This is indicative of central government’s focus on higher education in comparison with school education. In fact, the preference for higher education is also substantiated by the fact that while the demand for grants by the department of higher education has been met with matching budget allocation for two consecutive years, there has been a shortfall of roughly 20,000 crore in the case of elementary education.
Indeed, Mr. Jaitley announced the setting up of a Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) with an initial capital base of Rs 1,000 crore. He stated that the aim of HEFA is to finance improvement in infrastructure in top institutions. While HEFA is much needed and could go towards supporting better research and development infrastructure, details on it are missing from the budget documents and it is not clear yet to which institutions this money will be allocated.
As noted by the FM, HEFA will be set up as a not-for-profit and could leverage CSR funds. It is interesting to see how the Government defines the agenda for CSR funds for its own schemes and initiatives, whether it is the Swachha Bharat mission or now the HEFA.
The FM also said that, “an enabling regulatory architecture will be provided to ten public and ten private institutions to emerge as world-class Teaching and Research Institutions”. To give teeth to its commitment of promoting research, the government has also pegged Rs 236 crore under a new sub-heading research and innovation with announcement of schemes such as “IMPRINT” “Unnat Bharat Abhiyan” and “Uchhatar Avishkar Abhiyan”. However, it is interesting to note that barring Rs 10 crore for Unnat Bharat Abhiyan, which is aimed at identifying development challenges in rural India and coming up with sustainable solutions, the remaining Rs 226 crore is directed towards research and innovation in technology and engineering related challenges. Importance given to research in social sciences is thus trumped by that set for natural sciences.
Nidhi Gupta is a Programme Manager at the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @nidhi1902