Why successive budgets seem to have neglected higher education

By - February 05, 2020

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February 05, 2020

As the Centre curtails provisions, universities have sought to bolster other sources of income. A sharp increase in room rents and mess charges in late October sparked an agitation in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) which culminated in a ghastly attack on the campus by masked activists on 5 January.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) campaign for the forthcoming Delhi election has focused on its delivery of services in the past five years, especially on improvements in school infrastructure and examination scores. AAP has consistently dedicated about 24% of Delhi’s annual budgeted expenditure to education, by far the highest percentage outlay in the country. Its efforts are already being emulated in places like Maharashtra, and will become an attractive model across India should the party repeat its astonishing electoral success of 2014.

The Central government, meanwhile, appears headed in the other direction. The share of the Union budget allotted to education, approximately 40% of which goes to higher learning and research, has fallen from 4.14% in 2014-15 to 3.4% in 2019-20. Last December, having provided a tax cut to corporations that will cost it an estimated ₹1.45 trillion annually, the government slashed ₹3,000 crore from its education outlay for the current financial year. I would be happy if the forthcoming budget were to reverse the decline, but the past five years inspire little confidence.

As the Centre curtails provisions, universities have sought to bolster other sources of income. A sharp increase in room rents and mess charges in late October sparked an agitation in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) which culminated in a ghastly attack on the campus by masked activists on 5 January. Opponents of the fee hike pointed out that nearly 40% of students admitted to JNU had a monthly family income below ₹12,000, and would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pay the rates enumerated in the new hostel manual, especially a new monthly service charge of ₹1,700.

In December, five students from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune and six from its sister institution, Kolkata’s Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), sat on a hunger strike protesting a huge hike in fees for the Joint Entrance Test (JET) taken by all applicants to those institutions. The protesting students, having already passed JET, had no personal gain in mind, but were concerned that prospective candidates from lower income groups would be discouraged from applying in the future.

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