• Narayanan Ramaswamy, Partner |

Budget 2020-21: As a nation that is set to be the world’s largest supplier of workforce by the end of this decade, much was expected from this decade’s first Budget with respect to education and skill development reforms. The finance minister seems to have acknowledged it, which reflects in the reforms thrust towards employment generation.

At KPMG, we have been vocal about bringing apprenticeship, industry involvement and vocational training in professional education, especially engineering. There is a big fillip towards this endeavour with the announcement that 150 higher education institutions would now offer quality vocational education through embedded diploma courses. Also, urban local bodies will now have apprenticeship programme for engineers. This, I hope, will be a beginning of the journey to make engineering education more effective in solving local and national priorities, and, more importantly, increase job prospects.

Another area of cheer is the mention of higher education financing—with references to foreign direct investment and external commercial borrowings to improve education quality and building new institutions (National Police University, National Forensic University), and prospects for new medical institutions. While this is commendable, a big source of financing—in the form of funds accumulating with the trusts and societies running education institutions in the private sector—has been ignored. In a recent white paper with FICCI, we had made an appeal to streamline the effective usage of surplus funds that get accumulated in educational institutions, which, according to our estimates, are to the tune of Rs 80,000 crore in a five-year period.

Online education has been given a thrust with the big step of allowing 100% online degree courses in top 100 NIRF institutions. This is the beginning of a revolution that could happen in the online, digital space for education, and could benefit millions of youngsters in India—who can’t afford the traditional format of education. Although we had expected more incentives in the edtech space—an emerging area where India could have become the hub of innovations and adoption, given the need in this country.

The Prime Minister expressed confidence in the integrated approach towards agriculture creating more jobs. So would be the massive Rs 100 lakh crore investment proposed in 6,500 projects, the National Logistics Policy and the creation of 100 airports. Smart cities, data centre parks, electronic manufacturing and proposed initiatives in biotechnology and quantum technology (with an outlay of Rs 8,000 crore) are also bound to generate more jobs. There is a mention of thrust and focus on new-age skills such as AI, VR and big data. Having said that, skill development has not been given much attention in this Budget, with an allocation of just Rs 3,000 crore. Maybe this is embedded in sectoral initiatives, which we will get to know as they unfold.

Continuing from the previous Budget, the finance minister announced further strengthening of Study in India scheme with more than doubling the budget at Rs 65 crore. Ind-SAT is a great initiative to streamline and attract students to India. Along with the allocation of Rs 400 crore for developing world-class institutions, there is a clear signal of the will to make India a hub of higher education. I was privileged to be part of the EQUIP—which draws detailed and practical plan for higher education in the next five years—and it is heartening to see an allocation of Rs 1,413 crore for this, which includes various forward-looking initiatives.

The focus on school education, particularly the much-expected reforms on learning outcomes in schools, is completely missing. With India agreeing for PISA evaluations, this is absolutely crucial. Among other big misses are reforms in teacher development and training, and early childhood education.

Overall, it is a mixed bag when it comes to education and skill development. The thrust of increasing employability and creating new institutions is promising. We do eagerly expect the New Education Policy, reinforced with all the recommendations. Similarly, we believe the reforms with respect to the private sector and foreign institutional participation combined with suitable reforms will bring the much-needed funds for higher education.


( A version of this article appeared in The Financial Express on February 3, 2020)