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India cuts higher education spending by 13% amidst quality woes

The cash-strapped central Indian government has cut higher education spending this fiscal year by 13%, as reported by Mint. The finance minister had announced an expenditure outlay of Rs. 15,000 crore for higher education in the 2012-13 budget. The hardest hit will be two key initiatives of the human resource development (HRD) ministry, two officials said.

  • One is the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT), which aims to promote quality through technology-enabled learning. The low-cost Aakash computer tablet is a part of this mission.The Aakash project’s Rs. 700 crore budget could be cut in half, the official said. The ministry plans to issue a fresh tender for 5 million tablets to help bridge the digital divide as part of NMEICT, also called the ICT mission. Apart from the tablet, the ICT mission aims to establish virtual laboratories, promote the creation of open-source learning material and provide IIT classroom teaching to engineering colleges.
  • The second is improving the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) established in the 11th five-year plan (2007-12), according to the officials. Seven new IITs and six new IIMs were established in the past three years.

Earlier, the government announced that funding for the National Skill Development Corporation will be cut by Rs. 1,000 crore. This will likely affect India’s skills-training initiative targeted at bridging the education-employment mismatch.

“Budget cuts for educational institutes are now happening across the globe. We are not a rich country and instead of complete state funding, elite institutes should be allowed to raise funds by themselves. This will bring more fiscal discipline,” said Narayanan Ramaswamy, partner and head, education practice, at consulting firm KPMG. “There are some talks about floating education bonds and that should be encouraged.”

The government won’t focus on expanding higher educational institutes but on improving their quality in the 12th Plan period (2012-17), according to the plan document.

In line with this, junior HRD minister Shashi Tharoor said that the Kerala government’s proposal to set up an IIT was “unlikely to materialise” in the 12th Plan period.

He further lamented to The Indian Express that spending on education is only 1.22% of GDP, as opposed to 3.1% in the US or 2.4% in South Korea.

Education policy ‘out of step’

With 621 universities, more than 3,000 business schools, and 33,500 higher education institutes, India has one of the largest networks of higher education institutes across the world. It is second in terms of student enrolment, but the gross enrolment ratio was 18.8% in 2011 – less than the global average of 26%.

“The major problem remains that our national education policy in the past has remained out of step with the time. Whereas countries in the Middle East and China are going out of their way to woo foreign universities to set up campuses in their countries, India turned away many academic suiters who have come calling in recent years,” Tharoor said.

He continued, “Companies are entering the higher education space in the guise of training. Our university system simply is not producing well educated graduates to meet the needs of Indian companies today. We will also work towards putting our reform agenda back on track.”

The Indian Express further reported that “the HRD minister said there will be no need for many Indian students to go abroad to study if good higher education institutes were set up in the country.”

President Pranab Mukherjee said despite achievements, it is widely recognised that the country’s education system is burdened with demands of both quantity and quality, reported The Times of India. Mukherjee said:

“We need many more universities and technical institutions to be able to address the higher education needs of our increasing number of students. However, what we need most is to provide good quality education.”

He added, “I want to share with you my sense of disappointment on seeing, in recent reports, that not a single Indian university or institute of higher learning figure in the list of top 200 universities in the world. Whether the survey reflects the true position of our universities and institutes is beside the point.”

“Befitting our growing economic power status, we must raise the standards of our higher education to a level that we reach undisputedly among the top ten or at least top fifty in the world.”

“In a globalised world, Indian institutions should aim not only at becoming top universities in India but also establish themselves as world class universities with international standards of research, teaching and learning,” he stated.

“To maintain high standards, institutions must constantly upgrade themselves. They must not only invest in infrastructure and use the latest technology in the imparting of education, but also engage outstanding faculty and update their courses and curriculum constantly with changing times,” he added.

Linking education to employment

In early November, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh overhauled leadership of the Education Ministry in a sweeping cabinet reshuffle, but with national elections coming in 2014, experts said the new leadership was likely to stick to existing higher education policies.

M Mallipudi Pallam Raju replaced Kapil Sibal as minister for HRD, which includes education, and there are two new junior ministers of state.

“We have to see how we can accommodate foreign universities. I think it is something that needs a little more debate,” Raju explained, referring to the overall landscape for allowing foreign players to operate in India, not just the related bills currently stuck in parliament.

“Linking education to jobs would be a major priority,” according to Raju.

On the subject of employment, Silicon India has reported the following “sunshine sectors” in India that created new job opportunities in 2012, as reported in The Economic Times and based on an Assocham survey:

1. Information Technology
2. Academics and Education

Indian education sector has emerged as the major employment driver in the country. Employment opportunities in this sector are at an all time high and will continue to grow. In the year 2012, the academics and education sector in India provided 34,500 new job opportunities across India.

3. Insurance
4. Banking
5. Automobile
6. Financial Services
7. Manufacturing
8. Engineering
9. Hospitality
10. IT Hardware

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