Arun Jaitley, India's Finance Minister recently announced the Union's 2015/6 budget on Feb 28th. Jaitley slashed allocation of funds to the primary school sector by 10%. External consultants have reported that the Central Government may be thinking of transferring the responsibility of providing quality elementary education to States.
The mid-day meal scheme (which provides free lunches on working days for children in Primary and Upper Primary Classes in Government, and Government Aided schools) in particular, suffered a drastic fund cut from Rs 1296.5 crore last year, to a mere Rs 132 crore this year. States will be asked to spend a greater portion of their budget to support this scheme.
[url=http://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/britishcouncil.uk2/files/understanding_india_report.pdf]Research[/url] indicates that this could be a 'messy and unpredictable' move as different states have different capabilities. This will result in huge differences in education systems between states. The mid-day meal scheme has been responsible for increasing enrollment rates in schools, especially for girls. It is uncertain what the effect this budgetary reduction will have on future enrollment rates.
The Budget however, saw a shift in focus to higher education, with a planned increase of 22% for funds in this sector. Most of this increase is reported to be channeled towards building new IITs: Indian Institutes of Technologies and IIMs: Indian Institute of Managements, with two new IITs and IIMS already in the pipeline.
There are several reasons why higher education should be a priority of the government. A British Council [url=http://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/britishcouncil.uk2/files/understanding_india_report.pdf]report[/url] on the state of higher education in India in 2014 states that currently over 50% of India's population is under 25 years of age, and will need to be trained to contribute effectively to the economy. The four broadest challenges currently to higher educations in India are:
[ul][li]The supply gap: India has an enrollment rate of only 18% compared with 26% in China and 36% in Brazil. By 2020 the Government aims to achieve a 30% gross enrollment rate by creating 40 million new university places[/li][li]Low quality of teaching: India has a shortage of quality faculty. Schools are beset with outdated curricula. There is a lack of accountability in the education system, and a divide between teaching and research. Ensuring quality education is especially important in attracting students to vocational programs. According to [url=http://higheredsig.org/cihe/Number05-19.pdf]this article[/url], 60% of graduates from vocational training programs remain unemployed. This largely because of the poor quality of the programs. It is feared that this statistic will serve to desist future enrollment.[/li][li]Constraints on research capacity and innovation: India has a very low level of PhD enrollment, and does not have enough of high quality researchers. In 2010-11, only 16,000 doctoral degrees were awarded to schools in India- a minuscule number compared to other countries. This has led to a weak ecosystem of innovation.[/li][li]Uneven growth and access to opportunity: Society in India is highly stratified. Access to high quality education is highly dependent on certain socioeconomic characteristics[/li][/ul]
The root of these challenges lie in structure of the system. The national policy framework dictates that higher education institutions in India are required to have a not-for-profit structure- irrespective of if they are private or public. This has led to a proliferation of private entities which offer high demand- engineering and management courses, that use their status as 'not for profit' bodies to siphon off profits.
Degree awarding power lies only with universities specified by the University Grants Commission (UGC) under Section 22 of the University Grant Commission Act 1956. This has resulted in a complex system of hundreds of "teaching colleges"-private or public affiliated with public universities. In order to increase target expansion rates, privately funded universities were allowed. They could only be approved by state acts, or by the central UGC authority. This status is very difficult to achieve. Most private colleges are thus forced to stick to the curriculum of the university it is affiliated with. This curriculum is often sub par.
Can the Central Government overcome these challenges by increasing it's allocation of funds to higher education? The IITs and IIMs that the government proposes to build, have a very limited capacity and can only cater to a limited section of the population. I believe that the government should do more to encourage private investment in higher educational organizations to cater to the massive demand.
High standards of transparency need to be instituted to ensure funds are appropriately used, and high quality is maintained.
Private universities are currently frustrated by their lack of ability to control the curriculum and courses they offer under the affiliate system. While regulation of the higher education sector is crucial in India, bigger opportunities of 'self-regulation' through the professionalization of the sector needs to be considered. What I mean by this, is that professional associations could serve to ensure mutually agreed-upon standards are met.
Finally, the government needs to acknowledge, and do more to address to ingrained inequity in access to higher education. This needs to be tackled at the primary school level. These are the changes required.
I do not believe that the government's current plan of slashing funds for the elementary education sector to build more IITs and IIMs will fully address the challenges listed above.
[url=http://www.givology.org]Givology[/url] has supported organization such as the [url=https://www.givology.org/~tfpdwattirindia/]Nanubhai Education Foundation[/url] which contribute to reducing the inequity in the Indian education system by providing access to disadvantaged students. This organization has also made great strides in improving the quality of education by training teachers. Another organization that Givology supports: [url=https://www.givology.org/~asha/]Asha Samajik Vidyalaya[/url] is also committed to reducing inequity in education.
It is to be hoped that the efforts of organizations such as these can complement the governments efforts to provide quality education to India that it so desperately needs
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