This year’s union budget has been presented in the backdrop of intensified economic crisis due to the disastrous demonetization, which was nothing but a ploy to increase the liquidity in the banks that were on the brink of collapse due to the massively piled NPAs by the big businesses. The economic survey as well the budget speech was an exercise in self-deception, which was not ready to come to terms with this concrete reality.
However, if we assess the budget from the perspective of the students and the education, then it becomes clear that it is not a priority area for the government. The superficiality of allocation under various heads gives way to sheer neglect when a closer examination is made. The speech had nothing on funds for schemes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (for universal elementary education) or the mid-day meal scheme, which despite the problems in their implementation are crucial in our efforts to fully utilize the demographic dividend. There was no word on pre-primary or secondary education or training of teachers either. Neither the UPA, nor the NDA has made any preparations to handle the increase in enrollment in secondary schools due to the growth in the number of students after the Right to Education Act, 2009 was implemented. The neglect is seen in the nominal increase in the allocations made to the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan (RMSA). In fact, SSA, RSMA and Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA) were presented by our policy planners as three interlinked schemes which will work to make our education system more inclusive and help create trained labour force to increase the competiveness in the global knowledge economy. However, the actual outcomes & approach goes completely against the lofty goals.
|Institution/Head||Allocation in 2016-17 ( in crores)||Allocation in 2017-18 ( in crores)|
|For New IITs||190||350|
|Total Grant of IITs||5388||7856|
|Total Grant of IIMs||857||1030|
|Total Grant of NITs||2874||3440|
|Total Grant of NIITs||228||379|
|Assistance to states for implementation of 7th CPC recommendations||1400||700|
|SERB (Scientific and Engineering Research Board)||767||800|
(All figures based on data from indiabudget.nic.in)
Neglect of non-professional courses
As the figures cited above suggests, this year’s budget has been marred by the apathy towards the non-professional courses, which has been a continuing trend by successive governments ever since the market conservatism was pushed in education following the National Policy on Education (NPE) of 1986. Even though the budget speech talks about emphasis on the ‘pure sciences’, the actual figures tell something else. In our country, the allocations for scientific and applied research are made through Department of Science and Technology (DS&T) and Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), apartment from the allocations made under the MHRD. If we see the allocations figures and take the inflation & the increased burden of 18-20% due to the salary increase (owing to 7th CPC recommendations), then the increases would turn out to be insignificant. Further, there is an extra focus on the ‘centers of excellence’ like IITs, IIMs, NITs and NIITs, which in essence means that the vast majority of institutions even within the professional sector will have to strive for funds.
However, the more problematic aspect is the allocations made to the UGC, central universities and RUSA. The figures point towards stagnation in real terms and will have serious repercussions for our colleges and universities which are already under big shortage of faculty as well as the infrastructure. The centrally sponsored scheme, RUSA, launched in 2013 aims at providing strategic funding to eligible state higher educational institutions. RUSA, which was introduced by the Congress-led UPA-II government and has been carried further by the BJP-led NDA government, replaces the pre-existing multiple funding mechanisms with one centralised mechanism. The funding then is linked to a set of conditions failing which the institutions/states will not be eligible to receive funds. These conditions include implementation of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), semesterization and compulsory accreditation among others. In fact, north eastern states and the hill states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand were the first ones to agree to these compilations. The impact of these unplanned moves is already being seen in the form of complete withering away of the academic structure. Now, in such a situation the stagnation of funds will lead to more drastic impact on the higher education in these states.
This performance-based approach to funding will actually widen the existing gulf. RUSA has provision to divert funds to even such institutions, which do not fall under section 12B and 2(f) of the UGC Act. This translates into the provision of diverting the public money (tax collected from the working class and other toiling sections) to fund the private institutions, which are anyways free to charge exorbitant fees.
Autonomy leading to widened inequality
Finance minister talks about reforming UGC and then providing financial autonomy to the college and universities based on the ranking as per the mandatory accreditation. In fact, this whole concept of ‘autonomy’ is contradictory in itself, since this very government forced the universities to implement the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) 2 years back. Hence, while the academic autonomy has been snatched away, this whole talk of financial autonomy is nothing but a ploy to push the neoliberal agenda in education. This is in tune with the neoliberal push that we have been witnessing since the period of congress-led UPA-1. It will only lead to increasing the already existing wide gap in the various sectors of education. Finance Minister in his speech also talked about linking funding to ‘output-based accreditation and credit based programmes’, which implies the more state universities are going to be put under the ambit of credit based courses.
Deskilling in the name of ‘Skill Education’
‘Skill Education’ is the only area which got emphasis in the finance minister’s speech. He proposed to launch a Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion Programme for “market relevant training” to 3.5-crore youth. Rs 4,000 crores have been allocated to it. Another Rs 2,200 crores has been allocated to the Skill Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhancement for 2017-’18 for improving the quality of vocational training in Industrial Training Institutes and to “strengthen the apprenticeship programmes.”
This thrust towards ‘Skill Education needs to be seen in the historical trajectory of the evolution of the dual education system in our country. The National Policy of Education (NPE 86-92) was instrumental in not only accelerating the privatization of education but also putting in place a dual system of education. It introduced non-formal education (NFE), as a low-cost alternative to be treated as ‘equivalent to schooling’ for the working poor, the marginalised and children in “difficult circumstances”. When the Supreme Court in its 1993 judgement (Unnikrishnan vs the State of Andhra Pradesh) stated that the constitutional Directive Principle 45 should be read in conjunction with Article 21, it established that the right to education flowed from the fundamental right to life thereby converting “the obligation created by the article (45) into an enforceable right”. This required the 86th Constitutional Amendment in 2002, which was tailor-made to coincide with neo-liberal dictates to reduce public spending on education. Two significant limitations to the “enforceable right” restricted it to children between 6 to 14 years of age and provided for education only “as the State may, by law, determine”. The limitations allowed a retreat from the original constitutional responsibility and denied millions of children access to quality education.
The present regime’s proposed National Policy of Education 2016 (NPE 2016) promises to accelerate this process. Amendments to the already flawed RTE 2009 will allow for ‘alternate’ schools which do not ‘require’ the basic infrastructural and pedagogical norms laid down in the Act, limit the no-detention policy to lower primary (class V) and vocationalise the elementary curriculum in targeted areas. Dove-tailed into the Skill Development Programme and the amended child labour law which now permits under14 year-olds to work in ‘family enterprises’, this ‘education’ policy will reinforce caste distinctions and ensure that the majority of India’s children from oppressed and marginalised sections will be condemned to a childhood of labour.
Finance minister also repeated last year’s promise to focus on learning outcomes – class and subject-wise minimum standards of learning children are expected to achieve in school.” However, what is being forgotten is that mere improvement in the ‘devises to measure teaching outcomes’ won’t serve any purpose when the fundamental question of infrastructural crisis in our primary and secondary education is not answered. The moot point remains is the government serious in answering this question? The resolution of this conundrum lies in a massive increase in the public expenditure, while successive governments continue to give the false argument of fund crunch.
Let us give some figures at this juncture. While the fiscal deficit for the financial year 2016-17 was 3.2% of GDP, in the same year the tax forgone was a massive 3.18 lakh crore that is equal to 2.1% of the GDP. The social sector spending including that on education can be increased by reducing the concessions to the corporates and big businesses. The fact that government hasn’t done so is only a pointer of its priorities.
( Sunand is a full-time political activist working as Delhi State Secretary and Central Secretariat Member of Students’ Federation of India (SFI) )