The Budget must make provisions that encourage modularity with multiple pathways of vertical and horizontal connectivity between various formats of certification and help create a future-proof workforce
India’s demographic dividend —the average age of the population is 46 years in the US, 42 years in Europe, 48 years in Japan and 27 years in India — is a mammoth opportunity for the country. With the right education and skills, the country can harness its true potential and bring massive improvements to the economy.
The Union Budget is an important milestone to set the pathway and take the right steps in that direction. The new national education policy proposed by the Government has raised hopes of all stakeholders but the Budget needs to send the right signals and make provisions for the policy to bloom.
Increase allocation for education: A spending of three to 3.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education does not augur well for a country like India. Most developed nations (and several of the developing ones) have already moved their education budgets closer to the six per cent mark.
India should also provision for such improvements as this shall help bridge some part of the inequality and poverty in the country and pave the way for inter-generational social and economic mobility.
India will need to aggressively invest in improving the physical infrastructure in primary schools, take radical steps to improve student retention, make provisions for the specially-abled, spend higher amounts on teachers’ training and improve the pay structure for the educators so as to attract the best talents to the profession and bring better governance and performance management by inculcating a hope of rising and a fear of falling.
GST exemption for five years for education and education service providers: The Union Government’s target to double the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) from the current 25 per cent to 50 per cent shall require a consolidated and comprehensive effort by the Government, the institutions, the service providers and all other stakeholders, who will have to play their respective roles in governance, products, infrastructure (both physical and technology) and service delivery.
Exempting the input services from the Goods and Service Tax (GST) shall help reduce the fee charged by the institutions and make the courses more affordable. The country will also benefit from the entry of many more education providers who would be able to provide several modular, multi-modal, technology-enabled and relevant skill training programmes to the learners. They will also help improve the overall skills in emerging areas. Hence, making these courses exempt from GST would bring down their prices and make them more affordable.
Recognition for online programmes: In today’s online world, e-learning and online courses complement the education already provided by the traditional classrooms and help personalise learning through the use of various machine learning technologies. The Government must now go aggressive with online learning courses and make provisions for recognising and legitimising them. The Government should allow many more universities to launch their online offerings. This will enable institutions to innovate on their product and offer modular, contemporary and multi-modal education to the learners in all the three areas, namely preparation, repair and upgradation. This shall go a long way in improving the GER for the country, fill the skill gap and create a resilient and productive workforce.
Subsidy for apprenticeships: Learning-by-doing and earning-while-learning are powerful tools to make education more engaging, purposeful and employable. The huge dropout rate of students — of the about 23 million students taking the Class 10 Board examinations in India, only 80 lakh reach the altar of universities — primarily due to financial constraints and archaic pedagogy, can be partially arrested by degree-linked apprenticeships that combine the benefits of a modular degree (diploma in the first year, advanced diploma in the second that can roll up to a degree in the third year) with employability skills.
The Government must create a separate provision to provide higher incentives to the employers for hiring trainees and apprentices. This shall help improve the industry-academia connect and help create more employable students.
RUSA funds for providing skill training to students: So as to attract a larger section of the students to the innovative formats of learning and making them employable, the country would benefit from higher allocation in student scholarships and free-ships. The Union Budget should create provisions to use Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) funds by the higher educational institutes for subsidising the upskilling costs of the students to make them employable. This shall help institutions take new steps, partner with the industry and organise outcome-linked training programmes for their students.
Education loan availability: Categorising the lending to the education sector as a “priority sector lending” shall improve the uptake of loans by the students and improve affordability for many middle-class scholars. Granting infrastructure-class status to educational institutions shall reduce the rate of interest for the education sector, promote innovation and make education affordable and accessible to many more.
The Government must make provisions to subsidise the education loans availed by students (currently, education loans are more expensive than car loans). This shall help in making education affordable and improve the return on investment for the scholars and their parents.
Use of technology to improve governance and learning outcomes: The Budget must make provisions to incentivise the use of technology to improve the equity and quality of education. Special incentives must be given by the Government for investment in technology in the sector.
The industry shall benefit from tax incentives in capital purchases; GST exemptions in purchase of software and services by educational institutions and provisioning of smart devices for teachers and students. Subsidies for investment in emerging technologies like big-data, data analytics, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence shall set the momentum for many institutions to become role models.
Skill gaps and looming unemployment pose a great risk and challenge for the Indian economy. As it is, the future of jobs is uncertain as disruptive technologies are playing havoc with it. Hence, with the objective of creating an employable and resilient workforce, the country will need to look at investing in University 4.0 — keep the students at the centre, rebalance the trinity of cost, quality and scale and think harder about the purpose of learning. The Budget must make provisions that encourage modularity with multiple pathways of vertical and horizontal connectivity between various formats of certification and help create a future-proof workforce.
( The writer is founder and CEO of an online learning services organisation)