26 - 10 - 2020

Quality education needs funds

The National Education Policy has a vision of the education in 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 percent of GDP in education. The GDP for 2019-20 is estimated at Rs 145.66 lakh crore. The education at 6 percent 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 1lakh crore. 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 percent of GDP in education. The GDP for 2019-20 is estimated at Rs 145.66 lakh crore. The education at 6 percent 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 1lakh crore. 

Let us assume the nation is spending about Rs 2 lakh crore annually, just 25 percent 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 percent in 2017-18 – far away from the target. 

The comparison has some incongruence. The 6 percent 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 percent 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.

 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 liberalization. A 2015-16 survey finds that 78 percent of colleges are privately managed and 68 percent 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 tons. 

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-covid19 the economic crunch philanthropy or CSR is difficult. Even otherwise not many could attract such doles. The admissions are shrinking due to covid19 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. 

he 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 ten 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.

Shivaji Sarkar