Indicating tremendous improvement in the education scenario, the finance minister Arun Jaitely in his budget 2018-19 speech declared that the government propose to “move gradually from ‘black board’ to ‘digital board’ ”. The total allocation for education in this budget is Rs 85010 crore, which is just 3.8% higher than the Revised Estimates (RE) of budget 2017-18 and lesser than the projected estimate of tax concessions to the corporates in the current year, i.e., Rs. 85,062.11 crore. Moreover, the increase in the allocation is lesser than the annualized inflation rate of 2017 which is 4% and is predicted to increase further in 2018. Among the total education budget, Rs 50000 crore is allocated to School Education and Literacy, which is a marginal 6.3% increase over the same head last year. Higher Education was allocated Rs 35010.29 crore which is a shameful 0.5% increase over the allocation last year considering the inflation factor. Comparing the figures with respect to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the respective years, the allocation to education has gone down from 0.49% of GDP in 2017-18 to 0.45% of the GDP of the coming year. Allocations to school education and literacy has decreased from 0.28% to 0.27% of the GDP. And the allocation to higher education has decreased from 0.25% to 0.19% of the GDP.
While for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the allocation have increased marginally from Rs 23,500 crores last year to Rs 26,128 crores this year and for Rashtriya Madhyamik Shikhsa Abhiyan from Rs 3,915 crores (RE) to Rs 4,213 crores, Sukanya Bose of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy said “From our research, we have found that Bihar alone needs over Rs 30,000 crores to meet the norms set out in the RTE (Right to Education) Act”. The Mid-day Meal Scheme, which provides hot lunches to over 100 million children in government-run schools, received just 5% more which is 1% more than the inflation rate of last year. Although the finance minister declared of the Eklavya schools for tribal areas, there is no mention of it in the school education budget and is left on the tribal affairs allocation which includes rage of projects not just schools. The world class institution plans which is supposed to provide 30% reservations to foreign students in 10 world class institutes in India has been allocated Rs 250 crore. Whereas, there is a 3.8% cut in the fund allocation for Kendriya Vidyalayas, 7.7% cut for Navodaya Vidyalayas and inspite of the speeches on digitizing, the funding for Digital India e-learning has been cut from Rs. 518 crore to Rs. 456 crore. Allocation to the Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching remained the same contrary to Mr. Jaitely’s statement – “Improvement in quality of teachers can improve the quality of education in the country”.
The Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) initiative was announced and total investment of Rs 1 lakh crores over the next four years was allocated. However, this fund will not be in the form of a grant but will come from the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) – a non-banking finance company that raises money from private sector investment and offers loans to educational institutions. Established jointly by the Ministry of Human Resource Development and Canara Bank in 2017, under HEFA, the borrowing institutions will have to pay back the principal amount and the government will take care of the interest. The government increased the budget for the HEFA to Rs 2,750 crores (acquired through loans raised) in 2018-2019 from Rs 250 crores in 2017-2018 – a jump of 1,000%. In contrast, allocation for the University Grants Commission has been cut, from previous year’s revised estimates of Rs. 4,922.74 crore to Rs. 4,722.75 crore in 2018-19. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have seen their fund allocation cut steeply, from Rs. 8244.80 crore in 2017-18 to Rs. 6326 crore, while the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) have suffered an erosion in funds from Rs. 3668.17 crore to Rs. 3203.40 crore. Central universities suffered a fund cut from Rs 7261.4 crore to Rs 6445.2 crore. India’s spending on science remained stagnant at around 0.8% of the GDP.
The figures clearly show the increasing trend of withdrawal of public support from the education sector and facilitating private players to enter into the education market. Moreover, the interest for the private loan providers will be paid by the tax-payers money, making it a risk free investment for them. This budget is another step towards carrying out the responsibility to adopt the privatization in service related sectors like education, health etc. that India gad committed while signing the WTO-GATS agreement in 1995 during the Congress’ term. This budget will accelerate the current trend of increasing education costs for the citizens and will take education much farther from the working people of the country.