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Union Budget 2017: Develop India as a destination for higher education

The importance of education in one of the fastest growing major economies of the world cannot be overemphasized. Over the last two decades, India has remarkably transformed its higher education landscape.

Devi Singh        Last Updated: January 20, 2017  | 19:41 IST
Devi Singh, Vice Chancellor, FLAME University

Devi Singh
The Union Budget 2017 is expected to announce a slew of measures and allocations for key sectors of the economy like infrastructure, agriculture, housing, education and health to realign and reiterate government's national development and growth priorities.

The importance of education in one of the fastest growing major economies of the world cannot be overemphasized. Over the last two decades, India has remarkably transformed its higher education landscape. It has created widespread access to low-cost high-quality education for students at all levels. With well-planned expansion and a student-centric learning-driven model of education, India has not only bettered its enrolment numbers but has dramatically enhanced its learning outcomes.

FULL COVERAGE: UNION BUDGET 2017-18

But much more needs to be done.

Huge gaps stare us all in terms of access to quality education and unfulfilled aspirations of students and citizens. Hence the need for the governmental to step in big, support and uplift the entire education sector to required levels of acceptance.

The reach, quality and relevance of education in an economy of India's size and importance is indisputable. Its significance in a country like India that has a young demography with aspirations to be a part of the global knowledge pool makes it exceptionally relevant. Education in India today enjoys the position that calls for immediate attention.

Education must therefore be the foremost in the list of government's new initiatives that need major fillip in terms of funding support. Any attempt at improving education in the country must have in mind the following intellectual imperatives:

1.    Focus critically on ensuring a decent quality school education to all the children in the country.

2.    Develop research-focused universities that deliver high quality research output and research-focused graduates.

3.    Develop India as a destination for higher education for students, faculty, researchers and employers from all over the world

4.    Provide adequate budgetary and other support to all the governmental and other agencies involved in understanding and translating these imperatives into reality.

FULL COVERAGE: RAILWAY BUDGET 2017-18

Last year's budget allocation for education was much lower than needed to augment the comprehensive overhauling of the education system. It is hoped, therefore, that this year the government will keep in mind the national imperatives of uplifting of the entire education sector as a vehicle of national growth and development. Towards this end, the government needs to give a considerate push to the promotion of skill development and entrepreneurship amongst youth so as to ensure that the advantages of the demography are equitably shared between the privileged and not so privileged.

The government needs to create a balance in terms of crucial funding for school as well as higher education. It is therefore important for the government to urgently realize the need for recasting the priorities for budget allocation, and focus on the following key areas that comprise the major thrust in the education sector in the country:

1.    In addition to providing more liberal funding towards creation and support of the world class institutions, particularly at higher education level, the budget also needs to incentivize select private participants to establish high-quality institutions.

2.    Allowing access to foreign universities would bring in global best practices to the country and enhance its existing knowledge base. This will further provide the much needed exposure, and improve the standards of existing higher education institutions in India.

3.    An appropriate plan needs to be worked out for attracting and partnering with top global universities. The government could appropriately provide financial support for the same, if necessary. We have no choice but to train the current generation of Indian scholars at par with the best global norms, standards and practices. This means tackling, without further delay, the question of institutional reform alongside that of higher and university education. Higher education, research and institution building will have to be in the forefront of governmental priorities. The Government can play a huge catalyst role in improving the much needed funding for educational institutions by providing competitive access through public research grants to all deserving institutions. This funding is crucial for the development of research oriented infrastructure, performance and output.

Special measures need to be announced to pave the way for industry academia collaborations for collaborative research. It may be necessary for the government to incentivize both the educational institutes as well as the industry partner involved in the venture.

In order to achieve the distinct strategic objective of enabling universities to build on their strengths and cater to different categories of educational needs the government may create opportunities for enabling effective use of technology which, in the long run, will help resolve the longstanding tension between excellence and equity.

Adequate provisions need to be made in the budget to undertaken large-scale reforms to better faculty-student ratios by making teaching an attractive career path, expanding capacity for doctoral students at research universities.  

Top-tier research universities are centers of excellence for the creation of new knowledge, set up with the vision to emerge as national and international leaders in research output and intellectual property.

The need of the hour is to devise plans to financially support broad-based, quality-conscious but highly-accessible universities to expand the reach of higher education to all eligible and deserving students in the country. Such universities could offer a wide range of courses aimed at providing a holistic education to India's masses, and play a major role in promoting equity and access.

Such an agenda, with adequate support from the government, could help build a 21st century India that prides itself in providing high-quality education that is equitable, accessible and affordable.

Mr. Devi Singh is Vice Chancellor at FLAME University


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