Why the govt needs to spend more on education in post-Corona scenario  

In this pandemic situation education sector merits the attention of the government and it seeks greater social spending in coming days

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: social media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: social media)

Prashanth Kumar

The COVID-19 crisis is a deep human tragedy that is posing threat to every section of the global society. The lockdown imposed in order to contain the rapid spread of the Coronavirus has multiplier effect on Indian Economy. The trade and commerce, banking, health care, education sector, service sectors and finally the common man are engulfed in this vicious cycle of lockdown. In this pandemic situation “Education” sector merits the attention of the government and it seeks greater social spending in coming days.

In such a scenario, the Union HRD Ministry should abort their aggressive agenda of commercializing the higher education. Recent decision by the Union HRD ministry related to hike tuition fee, Mess fee, Hostel fee and any other cost recovery measures need to be rolled back immediately. In all universities, government should not charge mess fees and provide free food to hostel students for next one year. Because students hailing from socially and economically backward families won’t be in a position to afford the admission in public universities and extracting fees from them is unreasonable, unfair and unjust.

An engrossing subject of public interest “Education” is a basic human right which has to be promoted and Government should make public education system affordable to every student. As envisaged in the Constitution, education should be more accessible to every citizens especially deprived and marginalized sections should gain more access to the higher education. However it remained as a distinct reality. In 2018, President Ram Nath Kovind while speaking at the 30th Annual Convocation of Goa University said “although India was the third-largest education system in the world, access to higher education was still a privilege in the country”. The framers of the Indian Constitution incorporated “Education” in the directive principles and redesigned the elitist structure of the Education system. It was largely aimed to wipe out the disparities between various sections of the society in availing educational opportunities.

The budget allotted for the education in the current financial year should be neither reduced nor should it be diverted to any other departments, under any circumstances. The paucity of financial resources is obviously a principle problem, but the legitimate spending on education should not be curtailed. Despite financial constraints the academic activities should not be suffered and the fundamental task of the government is to see that students, irrespective of their social or economic background can make use of the opportunities in the education system.

The thrust should be on advancement of research activities in the higher education institutions. The State should provide liberal funding and encourage research on emerging crisis and other public health issues. With an overwhelming support to the universities and central institution, the research scholar’s focus will sharpen and they can emerge with practical solution on COVID-19. These research findings on the emerging crisis will be vital for the Government in handling the pandemic situation in coming days.

With the lockdown effect, new hardships like unemployment and repaying loans will haunt the student community. The students from aspiring class pursued higher education in private universities by paying huge capitation fees by raising education loan from the banks. Lack of campus placements, students won’t be in a position to repay the loan. According to RBI, the outstanding education loan dues are around Rs. 71,700 crores as on November 30, 2017.

The majority of the beneficiaries of education loan hail from middle class and lower middle class families, who are victimized with lock down effect. In this hour of crisis, the parents can’t be soft targets for the banks to recover the loans, because the lock down had also effected their income and they are burdened with their own debts.  In order to allay the distress among students, the Reserve Bank of India write off the loans. The Banks Consortium should adopt ethical policy towards outstanding education loans, as it waived loans of corporates and wilful defaulters.

Due to economic slowdown, in the current financial year, the recruitments in key sectors like manufacturing, construction, trade & commerce, health, and IT are very unlikely to happen. At this juncture, with a holistic approach the Government should revive Public Sector Units, in which qualified students from various streams can be employed, with paid apprenticeship, till they find regular job. A greater emphasis on employing new graduates who are entering job market, need to be taken with utmost priority by the state.

In the midst of lockdown, few universities are weighing options to conduct online exams for students, in order to wind up academic career. Recently, the examination branch of Delhi University issued notification to students for filling online examination form, which has created panic among students. Majority of students from poor background are sheltering in their homes in the rural areas and they hardly have access to the Internet. The brazen attempts by the university to conduct online classes may not be conducive for students who don’t own a laptop or computer. The online examination modules developed by third party vendors are grappled with loopholes and defects that may hampering the academic results of students.

The University Grants Commission, the apex body of Higher Education Institution in India states that there are 993 universities, 3.7 crore students and 14 lakh teachers in our country. At the moment 3.2% of GDP is spent on education which was against the commitment made by the Government which promised to spend 6 % of GDP. On the contrary, the corporate driven policies aimed at promoting privatization has further distorted higher education sector in India. This steady shift ensured that students from poor and marginalized sections are driven to the periphery and denied access to equal, quality and affordable education.

If the state spending on public education is curtailed it will have direct effect on the growth of Human Development Index and further widen the social gap. Any negligence towards education sector will keep the vast populace in the darkness of ignorance and illiteracy.

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