Budget 2021: Education sector faces 6.13% cut, lowest in 3 years

2021’s union budget presented by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, in the context of an already wailing economy hit by the COVID-19 induced slowdown, generated a mere lukewarm response as revival became the only focus and growth, a far-fetched catch.

The budget failed to provide an incentive to the education sector, which along with others, was hard-hit with the onset of the pandemic. The sector saw a massive 6.13 per cent cut in its budgetary allocation, the lowest in three years.

Compared to 2020-21’s budget of Rs. 99,312 crores (which fell to Rs. 85,089 crores as per revised estimates), this fiscal’s allocation for the ministry of education was only Rs. 93,224 crore, which is a massive fund cut of Rs. 6,088 crore. This is the lowest in three years as the spending on education as a level of gross domestic product (GDP) deteriorated at 2.8 per cent during 2014-2019 and expanded to 3-3.5 per cent in the 2019-21 period.

The pandemic has disrupted the education of many students across the country and a huge budget cut is expected to severely affect the education sector further.

School Education

Of the total outlay for this fiscal year, Rs. 54,873.66 crores was allocated for school education as against Rs. 59,845 crore disbursed in 2020-21. The school education’s cut of nearly Rs. 5,000 crore must be viewed in the backdrop of the Central government’s much-publicized National Education Policy (NEP), which is supposed to bring reforms in school education.

Further, the Centre went on to decrease funds for its projects of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan—which was allotted Rs. 31,050 crore, a cut of over 7,000 crores. National Scheme for Incentive to Girls of Secondary Education’s funds was embarrassingly reduced to mere Rs. 1 crore, as against Rs. 110 crore in last year’s budget.

However, allotment for Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas increased by Rs. 500 crores each.

Higher Education

The allotment for higher education has gone down to Rs 38,350.65 crore in 2021-22 from Rs 39,466 crore in 2020-21, though it came with promising a central university for Leh, a legislation to set up Higher Education Commission of India, and increasing academic collaboration with foreign institutions among other measures.

A whopping Rs 2000 crore drop can be noticed in funding allocations to Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA), with Rs 2100 crore allocated in 2020-21 to only Rs 1 crore in 2021-22. HEFA, announced by Arun Jaitley in 2016-17 was supposed to mobilize funds from the market to give loans to Central education Institutions (CEI) but the current budget cut renders it almost defunct and the government has already gone back to giving grant-in-aid instead, for the development of infrastructure.

One of the implementations of the first year of NEP will be the setting up of National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR) to support digital learning and teaching. Even as the pandemic forced the education sector to digitize, the union budget’s allocation of only Rs. 645 crore is underwhelming and may not be helpful in tackling the learning loss incurred in the past year.

Another one of the NEP implementations is setting up of Academic Bank of credit, a repository to store the credits of students obtained through classwork and tutorials.

Total funding for autonomous bodies like IITs, NITs, and other eminent institutions saw slight growth from Rs. 23592 Crores in 2020-21 to Rs. 23914 Crores in 2021-22.

However, a massive dip can be noticed in the allocation of funds to the Central schemes and projects from Rs. 8,406 Crores in 2020-21 to Rs. 6,069 crores in 2021-22.

Funding for research and innovation as part of the central sector schemes has been slashed from Rs. 307.40 crores to 237.40 crores.

Interestingly, the funds allotted post-matric scholarship scheme for Dalit students of Rs.3,416 crore is a significant rise from the previous year’s allocation of Rs. 2,918 crore.

However, the central government earmarked an annual Rs. 7,106 crore for the same in December last year, in a proposal to bear 60 per cent of the five-year spending of Rs 59,048 crore for the scheme.