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Arun Jaitley gives no new ideas on reforming higher education in Budget 2018

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More higher education institutions a positive, one new medical college for every three parliamentary constituencies will ease shortage of professionals.

It must be said that following the agricultural sector and rural areas, the opening remarks of finance minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget speech make it seem like one focussed sharply on health and education.

In the area of education, the speech was organised on the right priorities — the issue of poor learning outcomes and poor quality of in-service teacher training. The government promises district-level surveys on educational outcomes and in-service training will be addressed by an integrated training programme. It is unclear what the details are though, as the finance minister seemed to rely heavily on technology for delivery of both promises.

The major initiatives are with respect to providing Eklavya Vidyalayas in tribal areas, emulating the standard of Navoday Vidyalayas. While the objectives are laudable, critics will point out the association of the RSS with Eklavya Vidyalayas on the ground.

In higher education, the finance minister has persisted with the earlier pronouncement of reliance on loan-based financing of research and innovation through the Higher Education Financing Agency. The latter was set up in 2016 as a not-for-profit company for providing a securitised credit line.

Here, the finance minister claims there has been a lot of interest, but there are no new announcements.

The only new institutions are the Schools of Planning and Architecture within each IIT and NIT. Even bigger is the announcement of 20 new government medical colleges. This means that there will be a much wider presence of medical colleges, nearly one in every three parliamentary constituencies. This will ease the supply side constraints we are facing in the area of medical professionals. Also, the government coming in as a major player means that the scams of private medical colleges will also be under control.

So, the announcements of expansion here are consolidated in two areas. Besides, there are no new ideas on reform in higher education.

Manisha Priyam is a senior academic and higher education specialist. She is currently Associate Professor at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration.

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