The Union government has increased spending on higher education in its annual budget by 34% to 13041 Crores for 2011-12. With this increase the government aims to provide greater learning opportunities for its young population . How ever most of the allocation is for existing projects rather than expanding the number or intake of higher education institutions in the future.
Overall, the education sector received a hike of 24% to Rs.52,057 Crore compared to last year in order to provide universal access to secondary education, increase the number of students in higher education, and grow skills training for youth.
“Our demographic dividend, a relatively younger population compared to developed countries, is as much of an opportunity as it is a challenge. Over 70 percent of India will be of working age by 2025. In this context universalising access to secondary education, increasing percentage of our scholars in higher education and providing skills training is necessary,” said Pranab Mukherjee, Union Finance Minister in his budget speech.
India wants to increase its university enrolment rate from around 12% at present to 30% of the 18-24 year population by 2025, in line with the levels of many Western countries.
A major portion of the money for higher education will go to the 15 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), which will receive $1.25 billion, followed by the University Grants Commission, the regulatory body for higher education, which will receive $1.16 billion.
However, the increase falls short of the nearly 100% hike in higher education funding that the Education Ministry was pushing for to meet a slew of promises made under the country’s 2007-12 Five Year Plan.
The 2011-12 financial year is the last under the Plan, and the budgetary allocations will not be enough to finance many promises made, senior official sources said.
“The entire budget money will go to existing institutions or to institutions that have been set up in the last couple of years. There is no provision for building new institutions this year. Perhaps the government wants to wait for the 12th Five Year Plan,” said a government source.
India’s National Knowledge Commission has estimated that India needs 1,500 universities compared to around 370 now.
The unfulfilled promises under the 11th Plan include proposals to establish 20 new Indian Institutes of Information Technology, and more recent pledges like the National Education Finance Corporation. The NEFC is expected to provide loans and bank guarantees for students seeking study loans, and easy loans for new institutions.
The government had also promised to set up 50 centres for cutting-edge research in science. A proposal to give incentives to state governments that set up new higher education institutions, also spelt out in the 11th Plan, is yet to obtain cabinet approval. A senior official said that project alone would require close to Rs 9 billion.
With an eye on the upcoming state elections in West Bengal and Kerala, Mukherjee announced sops for a few higher educational institutions in the two states. These include a Rs 200 Crore one time grant for IIT-Kharagpur, 20 Crore to Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta for setting up a financial research and training laboratory, Rs.50 Crore each for Aligarh Muslim University’s upcoming campuses at Murshidabad in West Bengal and Malappuram in Kerala, Rs.10 Crore for setting up the Kolkata and Allahabad centres of the Wardha-based Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya and Rs.100 crore as a one-time grant to Kerala Veterinary Animal Science University.
Mukherjee also said that the proposed National Knowledge Network which aims at connecting 1,500 institutes of higher learning and research across the country will connect 190 institutes by March this year while the rest will be brought into the network by March 2012.
The minister also sanctioned Rs. 200 crore for the Maulana Azad Education Foundation while the Delhi School of Economics and Madras School of Economics have also been allotted Rs.10 crore each.
The minister also informed that the National Skill Development Council (NSDC) is well on course to achieve its mandate of creating 15 crore skilled workforce two years ahead of 2022, the stipulated target year.
“It has already sanctioned 26 projects with a total funding of Rs.658 crore. These projects alone are expected to create more than four crore skilled workforce over the next ten years.
“In the current year, skill training has so far been provided to 20,000 persons. Of these, 75 percent have found placements. I will provide an additional Rs.500 crore to the National Skill Development Fund during the next year,” he said.