Every year, the Union budget sets the policy agenda of the government and impacts all sectors and industries. In these times of economic slowdown, it also carries a sense of hope for millions of Indians. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is set to present the budget, her second, on Saturday. The country will be eager to hear what she has in store and what initiatives the government has devised to lead India to a $5 trillion economy. With less than a week left for the budget, here are my thoughts on providing impetus to the education sector and allied fields:
Energise liberal arts education in India
The government has invested heartily in the development of technical education in the past two decades when the IT services sector boomed in the country. As we enter a new decade, a clear focus should be to energise the liberal arts education in India. Efforts need to be taken to enhance the curriculum in terms of incorporating new emerging trends in the area of higher education. Regulatory measures can be provided to universities in higher education or online programmes to set guidelines and parameters in terms of designing curriculum, programme structure, duration of the programme and to successfully position this degree for the job market.
A secular effort should be made to give an impetus to the liberal arts education in the country which must focus on problem-solving skills like design thinking. A liberal arts education aims to expand the mind’s capacity to think critically and analyse information effectively.
More impetus to NEP
The National Education Policy (NEP), brought onto the table in 2019, introduced Choice-Based Credit System (CBCS). The primary challenge here is the gradual adoption of the credit system. Assessments play a vital role in assessing whether the faculty members have the right credentials to offer this kind of education in terms of the CBCS. Hence, it is imperative to have a continuous professional development programme for the faculty members. While the policy has been framed, implementation of the policy through faculty’s assessment or development programme based on the scientific assessment model should be given a greater focus by various government bodies to take it forward.
Proposal for corporate tax deduction for SMEs
Upskilling and reskilling have become a fad lately. One of the biggest challenges India currently faces is to provide livelihoods to the educated youth and decent wages for the working classes in the organised and unorganised sectors. Automation has revolutionised industry and it has become imperative to attain the right skills in order to stay relevant in the competitive market.
A budgetary allocation around corporate tax deductions needs to be provided to the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). While organisations offer employee benefits through various policies such as medical and health benefits and Provident Fund, the corporate tax deduction will open the doors for upskilling programmes. While the government has rationalised tax slabs for corporate giants in 2019, there should also be tax deduction measures for SMEs as well. Tax benefits to SMEs for promoting and nominating their employees for higher education or online education or full-time programme as in upskilling them should be considered an investment in nation-building for increasing their employability.
Job loss insurance
News on unemployment and layoffs have become routine in recent times. Skill shift has made people rush for the skilling programme. While they equip themselves with the new-age skills, they might not have a job at hand immediately. With the ever-changing dynamics of the job market, job loss insurance can be proposed in the budget. The government has invested in initiatives for health insurance like Ayushman Bharat or PMJJBY for life insurance in the past and has helped millions to manage their health and life risks. It is time we also provide for income risk with a job loss insurance initiative. It will give them an opportunity to re-build and re-skill themselves, leading to a virtuous cycle by complementing the skill-India initiatives.
Explore pacts with private players for new courses
The government should also allow public universities to partner with private bodies, assessment companies or online learning platforms who have the expertise in offering courses on new-age and emerging technologies. The government can mandate this for the large programmes where liberal arts, especially economics or statistics, is taught. It could be used for creating vocational courses or making them “job ready”.
Proposal for public universities to use their corpus for edtech/PE and VC funds/incubators
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Currently, education technology (edtech) is part of the larger pool of investments being made by the private equity funds or VC funds. Could private universities use their corpus to invest in PE and VC funds for edtech opportunities? The private and government universities have a huge quantum of funds that are currently deployed only on government securities or other secure funds. They should be allowed to use a certain amount of the funds to provide investments to edtech companies/start-ups in India. This will enable them to solve the skill development challenges, launch upskilling programmes in India, and push online education in vernacular languages through digital technology tools.
While the economy is not in the pink of health, the budget is an opportunity to ease the economic situation and alleviate the condition of the education sector, too. Policy announcements, which will give a shot in the arm to the education sector, are expected in the forthcoming budget.
(The author is the CEO of Bengaluru-based MeritTrac Services)