Budget 2014: Quality in higher education gets priority

Ashish Dhawan, Livemint on July 14, 2014

With the future of 240 million young Indians at stake, we are encouraged to see that the 2014-15 budget reaffirms the new government’s commitment to prioritizing education.

The budget highlights the critical role that an educated and skilled workforce plays in driving economic growth. Significantly, the government has taken steps to make education a quality-driven sector by beginning to shift the focus to outputs.

The budget includes a commitment of over Rs.68,728 crore towards education. It indicates the government’s intention to address the need for quality education for our youth. Let us look at three such specific examples of investment in strategic interventions:

• Rs.30 crore for School Assessment Programme: it is critical to have quality measures of how our schools are performing and our students are learning.

• Rs.500 crore for Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya New Teachers Training Programme: with a shortage of 1.2 million teachers in the country, we need to find ways to improve the number of skilled teachers.

• Rs.100 crore for setting up virtual classrooms as Communication Linked Interface for Cultivating Knowledge (CLICK) and online courses: technology can be leveraged for innovation and to enable high-quality learning and development of students and teachers.

The government has also proposed a Skill India programme, consolidating the centre’s skill development efforts into one focused mission. It is also heartening to see the government’s commitment to increase access and quality in higher education.

• Scale-up of high-quality and proven models of apex institutions such as Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management and All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) across the country

• Use of technology through increasing allocation for information and communications technology (ICT) and open and distance education with a special focus on National Mission on Education through ICT

• Increase in allocation from Rs.400 crore to Rs.2,200 crore for Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan which increases central focus on access, equity and quality in higher education

As the government moves to implement these schemes, we need to make sure that our resources are utilized optimally.

Given the fiscal constraints facing the government, there is a need to shift focus from increasing budgets to more effective expenditure of schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Mid Day Meal Scheme. For instance, changing the measurement of success of these schemes from an input-based system to an outcomes-based system would give us much greater information about whether they are really meeting the needs of our children.

The budget presented by Arun Jaitley indicates an outcomes-based policy direction in the government’s approach to education, and we hope that the commitment to such strategic initiatives increases over time. We congratulate the finance minister and the human resource development minister Smriti Irani for rightly recognizing the education priorities of our country and proposing measures that can transform our education system.

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