The month of February every year stirs up one's desire to see the Finance Minister don a two-month overdue Santa suit and dole out budget goodies for one and all, and the education sector is no exception to this rule. Adding this to the axial role played by education in the country's development, its budget wishlist justifiably includes many expectations from the government.
The key expectations from Budget 2013, ergo, include the following: an increase in the budgetary allocation for primary education; the adoption of innovative models for the development of higher education infrastructure such as public private partnership [PPP]; the provision of fiscal incentives to the private sector for setting up vocational and skill development institutions; an increase in the access to low-cost funds for students pursuing higher education in India through appropriate schemes; an enactment of the long-pending higher education legislation that could help in easing the overlapping and archaic regulatory framework that exists today; and the provision of "infrastructure status" to companies developing education infrastructure.
Perhaps the most critical need of the hour is an effective implementation of the Right to Education Act [RTE], the crown jewel of the UPA government's initiatives. The RTE, enacted in 2009, is highly laudable, but today faces a number of implementation roadblocks, including inadequate funding, a shortage of trained faculty, inadequate infrastructure and a controversy on the applicability to private schools. Despite these challenges in sight, the government is contemplating extending RTE to pre-schools and classes 9-10. A coherent, realistic and effective roadmap for implementation of RTE is desired before the provisions are extended to other segments of school education in India.
From a higher education perspective, India today is said to boast of a population of over 234 million in the age group of 15-24 years, growing at a rate of 13 per cent [the highest among US and the BRIC countries]. This demographic dividend craves a phenomenal increase in the number of higher educational institutions in the country. Given the stretched resources of the government, an effective and robust central government-sponsored PPP framework appears to be the only magic carpet to ride on towards achieving the 30 per cent GER target within 2020. A concoction of government incentives, private funding and industry inputs could provide the much needed impetus for the development of the sector.
In summary, increasing access, affordability and quality of education in India is the need of the hour. This could be achieved through funding, the introduction of appropriate government schemes and effective implementation of the existing policy framework in India.
(Roshan Samuel, senior tax professional, Ernst & Young. The views expressed here are personal.)