Edit & Opinion

‘New’ Education Funding: Huge, not considered

By Shivaji Sarkar

The National Education Policy has a vision of the education standards in the country for the next many decades. It falters on the fundamental question of how to fund it in an era of high costs, high inflation and the most expensive education envisioned. It is a surprise that the crucial question of funding not only for educating the coming generations but also paying the most important resource, the teachers in schools and faculty in higher education, has apparently not been mulled over.

The nation has been cribbing over the last two decades that it is unable to fund education. It is not only the government but even the private sector has failed to raise funds. The dream of NEP of 1968 was to invest 6 per cent of GDP in education. The GDP for 2019-20 is estimated at Rs 145.66 lakh crore. The education at 6 per cent of it needs over Rs 8 lakh crore. The Central budget has allocated Rs 99311 crore. It is assumed that the private sector, paid as fees by parents is raising another Rs 1 lakh crore.

Let us assume the nation is spending about Rs 2 lakh crore annually, just 25 per cent of what was estimated requirement in 1968. During these 52 years cost of living has galloped. Consumer price index has been revised a number of times. Public expenditure in education has increased by 2.7 per cent in 2017-18 – far away from the target.

The comparison has some incongruence. The 6 per cent expense on education was estimated for a population of 45.96 crore. Today the population is three times more at 130 crore. By sheer logic the number of students has increased by the same proportion. The lag in infrastructure and faculty quality is a telling problem of today’s education. The NEP may have taken these aspects in their assessments but it is not reflected in the document.

So what was estimated as need for over Rs 8 lakh crore as per 6 per cent of GDP should practically at least double (Rs 16 lakh crore) if not treble if the nation wants to give holistic and wholesome education to its burgeoning young population.

The NEP though has gone through an arduous process it is missing on practical approach on resources. The premise is that the funding instead from public accounts would come through private sector and the possible foreign investments. It is a nice dream but may finally lead to widening the existing gaps in deliveries. This premise has been raising continuously tuition fees of public institutions like IIT, IIM and IIMC since 2007.

The policy has not studied the problems that private universities or institutions, with some exceptions, have added to this sector since 2003. Many have turned into degree mills a la the US pattern. They are awarding degrees and diplomas with substandard deliveries. There are serious allegations against some.

The quality of faculty and infrastructure is usually below the standards of a public university. The number of faculty and other resources are always less than the requirement.

Most private universities suffer from serious fund crunches as their only source of earning is tuition fee. The sustenance depends on the number of students joining the institutions. It simply means if the numbers are high, the chances of survival are better. It is no guarantee for quality. Often the faculty is under severe stress. Apart salaries are pittance compared to any state-funded university. The least, if at all, is spent for faculty development or research. These are pre-covid19 problems.

The policy makers apparently have not considered these problems. Had it been taken into account, the policy could have been more practical.

The private institutions were planned to meet the funding gap since 1991 economic liberalisation. A 2015-16 survey finds that 78 per cent of colleges are privately managed and 68 per cent do not get government aid. The policy makers still view education as non-profit venture and the gaps are to be filled up with philanthropic contributions as the term “public philanthropic participation” suggests.

It does not consider that with higher number of private institutions most institutions are competing to slash their fees to attract numbers. Most are in poor financial health and compromising further on quality.

In such situation a cocktail education system that is aimed at opening doors to foreign universities and introducing a four-year, instead of three years, undergraduate programme adds to the cost of education. It should have considered having a one-year post-graduate programme too. The reduction of two years in higher education reduces many unnecessary costs and saves the nation tonnes.

The savings benefit not only the institutions but also the student community – in other words the society, by reducing their expenses, precious time and allowing them to go for jobs early. The argument that reduction in term affects quality is humbug. In the last six months of the under graduate course in the name of dissertation or internship, nothing is taught. In many post-graduate courses an 11-month syllabus is extended to 18 months with last semester for nothing. These rarely add to skills or knowledge.

Post COVID-19 the economic crunch philanthropy or CSR is difficult. Even otherwise not many could attract such doles. The admissions are shrinking due to the pandemic panic and job losses by parents. Even private secondary schools in 2019 had fewer admissions. Many parents are yet to pay the fees of the last academic session.

The NEP has a long wish-list. The stress on ‘learning outcomes’ disadvantages what it calls the socio-economically disadvantaged groups (SEDG). Mere mention of terms like creativity, critical thinking, multi-disciplinary without manpower or financial support may further affect the quality.

It had a simple model to study 5000 RSS Vidya Bharati schools, having over 3 million students, which have emerged as quality centres apart from missionary schools. These also work on part-philanthropic model. But the document should have stressed on changes in tax system prowling on any ‘income’.

The NEP will become model for decades. It has to redo its math and approaches. Populist proposals of doing away with Class 10 and 12 board exams or cut in curriculum is not a solution to achieve UN’s SDG goals for inclusive and equitable education. If the nation has to compete with China or the west it has to provide the finances and make education affordable for producing quality generations.

 

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