As we move into 2021, traditional educational institutions are gradually opening up and being compelled to move towards a blend of classroom and digital learning. This along with the introduction of National Education Policy 2020 and not to forget preparations to participate in the PISA test in 2022, is making everyone to look forward eagerly to Union Budget 2021-22 ‘transformative’ announcements.
Education in India needs to be recognized as an equalizer – as a crucial instrument that can bridge the socio-economic divide in our country. Income inequality in India stems from the enormous disparity in learning outcomes after completion of education. And, to address this gap, reallocation of resources from other sectors need to be made and re-routed towards building a level-playing field for all students. “Budget 2021 needs to focus on investments towards building a robust system of accountability, checks, and balances to level-up the delivery and quality of higher education,” says Shaheem Rahiman – CEO of Atria University.
An area of contention in budgeting process has been unutilized funds (close to 13% of the budget allocated in the last fiscal is unused). According to Sumit Kumar, Vice President – NETAP, TeamLease, “Firstly, we need to ensure better and optimum use of the funds which remain unused. Secondly, we need to look at creating appropriate avenues where the allocated funds can be utilized more effectively.” He adds that the budget should also take measures to fast track adoption and implementation of the New Education Policy 2020.
The current public expenditure on education in India has been around 4.4% of GDP. “This needs to be significantly increased to 6-7% of GDP with combined contribution of Centre and State governments, “ feels Prof Manoj K. Arora, Vice Chancellor, BML Munjal University while adding that if we want to give due importance to research, the research and innovation investment, which currently stands at about 0.7% of GDP as compared to 4.3% of GDP in a small country like Israel, needs also to be enhanced to at least 2% of GDP.
“We look forward to the Union Budget 2021 for the much needed thrust and impetus to the education sector which has to play a pivotal role in nation building more than ever due to challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID has completely changed the dynamics of classroom education, and has provided a push to digitization in the sector. This is the time to invest in digital infrastructure in schools and leverage technology to make learning accessible. The upcoming budget must set the tone for strengthening the education sector to be future ready. Provisions for developing school infrastructures for digital led learning and support for acquisition of latest educational aids must also feature in the budget,” says Monica Malhotra Kandhari, MD, MBD group.
LEAD School Cofounder & CEO, Sumeet Mehta is more specific and talks about mitigating the losses and impact of long school closures due to pandemic. He wants initiatives like Learning Gaps Fund and Teacher relief Fund for affected children and thousands of medium and small private schools. “Learning Gaps developed among students after a year of school shutdown owing to Covid19 is the next big challenge in education. Most schools are already contemplating on ways to fulfil these gaps since students may not be thorough with conceptual understanding and this can have long lasting impact. A fund that particularly helps affordable private schools to address these gaps in learning by making provisions for refresher courses or bridge programmes between two classes will be definitely benefit students in covering up the lost year,” he says. Similarly on the teacher relief fund he makes a case by saying that more than 50 per cent private schools have uncollected fee that accounts for anywhere between 13 to 80 per cent of annual revenue. “If this scenario continues teachers’ salaries and technology infrastructure upgradation for hybrid learning will be severely impacted in 2021 as well. Therefore, the government should consider budgetary allocation to set up a relief fund to provide easy credit or teacher salary fund for affordable private schools that struggled through Covid 19.”
Lack of digital literacy and skills has come to be recognized as one of the biggest challenge while 2020 exploded for online learning. “We saw a dynamic shift in the education industry – new players, increased investments, and a huge influx of online learners. So, it would be refreshing to see large scale initiatives/announcements to transform the nationwide community of teachers and professors in non-premier academic institutions into digital-savvy resources,” opines Dr Santanu Paul, Co-Founder and CEO, TalentSprint.
“The budget is a good opportunity to narrow this divide by introducing schemes that could make e-learning more widespread through incentives to schools and students who invest in smartphones and other digital learning tools, adds Jerold Chagas Pereira, Executive Director and CEO, mPowerO. The 2021 Union Budget is expected to be open to creating an Edtech ecosystem with greater access to the internet and robust data protection. By allowing innovation in the sector and improving the basic digital infrastructure of the country, the government can ensure that education system is immune to any pandemic in the future. “The global COVID-crisis was a wake-up call for all of us to and now that we have it, we believe this year’s budget will focus more on making education accessible, affordable, and scalable. Our education system needs a perfect combination of digitization and traditional classroom learning,” says Dr. Sunita Gandhi, Global Classroom Private Limited (GCPL) and Global Education & Training Institute (GETI).
In words of Rustom Kerawalla, Chairman, Ampersand Group, positive learning from the pandemic indicates that there should be a significant allocation of funds to online education, affordable digital devices, and should be complemented with high-speed internet access to the remotest parts of India. The budget should also look into resource building and improve the teacher-student ratio as nearly 250 million students are expected to enroll in schools by 2030 which would need 7.5 million highly trained teachers to address the massive student population.”
“To encourage quality EdTech start-ups and more professionals to get into the skilling domain, the Government should look at a tax holiday for initial two years of operation. To give thrust to online training and education, more funds allocated to automate and digitise operations of training institutions will enable India to become a global hub for online education,” says Rameswar Mandali, CEO and Founder, SKILL MONKS. This is a majority view. According to Gaurav Tyagi, Founder – Career Xpert, the Union Budget 2021 should focus heavily on creating online infrastructure & making it available till the last mile via the use of affordable smartphones, free internet and democratic distribution of technological devices. Budget 2021 will need to be of the expected up-gradation in infrastructure. Boosting ed-tech & online examination system to provide facilities of online exams across the country.
In addition to the current schemes like free mid-day meals etc., government should collaborate with telecom companies to offer subsidized data plans to under-privileged students taking online classes. “In many ways, lockdown fast-forwarded adoption of technology and government should ensure we do not return to pre-2020 era,” feels Nilesh Gaikwad – Country Manager at EDHEC Business School.
Putting the expectation more direct and straight, Yeshwanth Raj Parasmal, Co-founder and Chief Director, 21K School, adds: “ We expect the Finance Minister to take cognisance of the changing profile of the education sector and recognise it as an industry and accord for-profit status in lines with the Health & Medical Industry. This is will attract much greater investment in the sector and develop the education sector for the masses.”
“The Union budget 2021 should give further strengthen the focus and investment in Edu-tech to enhance experiential and immersive learning and reinforce the skill development process at par with the global education standards,” says Ramananda SG, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Pearson India.
Inclusion is fundamental to success of societies and nation. So, expectedly, the challenged population of children also looks up with expectations from the budget proposals. “The government should also bring to light the importance of easing the challenges faced by students with learning disabilities in order to build a conducive learning atmosphere for them and their aspirations,” says Surabhi Goel, CEO, Aditya Birla World Academy, Aditya Birla Education Academy, The Aditya Birla Integrated School.
Likewise early education is very important and has been hit the hardest by the pandemic. It needs government attention in this budget. “We look forward to the budget targeted to provide relief and support for this very important segment that plays a pivotal role in nation building,” adds Prajodh Rajan, Co-Founder & Group CEO EuroKids International.
The crisis of pandemic also brought focus on medical education and cemented healthcare as a pillar of existential requirement. “Our country needs more MBBS, MS and MD medical post- graduates and well-equipped hospitals and colleges. The government should allot funds for medical education in rural areas. The health facilities should be improved in rural areas with qualified doctors and better equipment. The special allowances should also be provided to the doctors and their paramedical staff. The health scheme for children should be launched by the government that should especially focus on the paramedical courses. New courses should be started in the existing government colleges. There needs to be a system where we can focus on skilling and upgrading medical workforce skills in the needed geographies. In order to achieve this, major reforms are needed,” says Manish Mohta, MD – Learning Spiral.
To sum up, India need to enable home-grown edtech firms that are looking to build a strong human capital for India, as well as aspiring learners with vouchers and tax breaks. “This has to happen all the way from K-12 to college to adult learning,” adds Dr Santanu Paul quoted above.
Demand for Reduction in GST rate from 18% to 5%
Many providers feel that currently, 18% GST on educational services is a burden on the consumers especially for technical and supplementary education. An average course which a consumer wishes to spend on 4-6 month of training is itself Rs. 35,000. This plus GST of 18% discourages many consumers to opt for learning and relearning. “I would urge the government to reduce the GST from 18% to 5% on all educational services. This would encourage learning and create more skilled professionals,” says Sumesh Nair, Co-founder & CEO, Board Infinity. The high rate of GST for online education and online assessments makes it expensive, thereby restricting its access to only the elite. Therefore, considering the need of the hour, the government should reduce the existing rate of GST from 18% to 5% in the Union Budget for 2021 for online assessments and education. This step will not only enable access to online education & online examination systems at a lower cost but also provide a fillip to ed-tech companies.
Education Budget stats
In the recent years, India has witnessed marginal increment in the education budget allocation from Rs 85,000 crore in 2018 to Rs 94,500 crore in 2019, a 10 % increase and Rs 94,500 crore in 2019 to Rs 99,300 crores in 2020, which was a 5% increase only. In the FY 2020 of the Rs 99,300 crore Rs 59,845 crore were allocated to school education and literacy department and around Rs 39,466 were allocated to higher education, even though the Indian Higher Education sector has been growing extensively with much greater monetary requirements.
Currently it stands at 993 universities, 3.7 crore students and 14 lakh teachers. In the higher education sector in particular, budget allocated to Indian Institutes of Technology had been hiked from Rs 6,559.95 crore in FY’20 to Rs 7332 crore in FY’21, but budget allocated to Indian Institutes of Management had been reduced from Rs 500.53 crore in FY’20 to Rs 476 crore in FY’21.