Teacher shortage mars higher education

Education is the most powerful tool for the advancement of the nation and the most potent weapon to fight poverty.” This is what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had said in its election manifesto in 2014. It had promised that it would accord the highest priority to address the acute shortage of teachers and researchers, quality of education and research and also keep in mind the employability factor associated with most courses.

On the second anniversary of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government, a look at the country’s education sector shows a bleak report card marred not only by controversies and unrest in various universities but also a lack of infrastructure and reduced fund allocation.

The “highest priority” to address the shortage of teachers seems to be missing when it comes to higher education in the country. Highlighting this gap, a recent report by a parliamentary panel warned that the “situation continues to be grim with no improvement foreseen in the near future”.
According to the report by the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on human resources development tabled last month, the acute shortage of faculty has been the biggest handicap for growth and development of higher education vis-à-vis maintaining quality.

The BJP had also promised, in its manifesto, that public spending on education would be raised to 6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The number has dropped in two years and is far from the 6 percent as promised.

According to an analysis done by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), the Union government’s spending on education as per the 2016-17 was 0.48 percent of GDP. It was 0.5 percent in 2015-16, according to revised estimates.

The government’s spending on education as a percentage of the budget has also shown a downward trend. The CBGA analysis shows that it stands at 3.7 percent for the current fiscal, down from the 3.8 percent as per the revised estimates for 2015-16.

Government spending as part of the total budget in percentage terms stood at 4.7 percent during the United Progressive Alliance’s rule in 2012-13 and 4.6 percent in 2013-14. For the fiscal 2014-15, the spending on education was 4.1 percent.

Talking of gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education, which is the participation rate for the age group of 18-23 years, the parliamentary panel report said that India lagged behind many nations.
According to government data, the gross enrolment ratio in higher education in India is 23.6 percent. The same for male population is 24.5 percent and for females is 22.7 percent. For Scheduled Castes, it is 18.5 percent and for Scheduled Tribes, it is 13.3 percent.

The parliamentary panel report observed that the Twelfth Plan Approach Paper mentions around 18 percent of all government education spending (or 1.12 percent of GDP spent) be spent on higher education. This funding should be raised to 25 percent and 1.5 percent respectively, it said. 

“However, the overall scenario regarding the declining allocation over the years shows a different picture. This is also reflected in the low achievement of gross enrolment ratio (GER) which is taken as an indicator of the growth and development of the higher education sector in the country. As may be seen from the comparative figures, India ranks at the bottom regarding GER amongst those nations,” it said.

The committee reiterated that to achieve higher GER and make India an education hub globally, not only more allocations were required, but the utilisation of allocations had to be more efficient.

Coming to initiatives in the sector, the National Education Policy is among the most talked about.
Minister for human resources development Smriti Irani has said at various fora that the government would bring out a National Education Policy on its second anniversary.

“The Government of India would like to bring out a National Education Policy to meet the changing dynamics of the population’s requirement with regards to quality education, innovation and research, aiming to make India a knowledge superpower by equipping its students with the necessary skills and knowledge and to eliminate the shortage of manpower in science, technology, academics and industry,” the nodal Ministry’s website reads.

The minister has hinted at a web portal which would teach subjects in various languages, research parks, private participation and greater autonomy to educational institutions. However, it remains to be seen what the policy actually has in store.

The government had also announced in the budget 62 new Navodaya Vidyalayas to be opened in the remaining uncovered districts of the country over the next two years.

It also announced a Higher Education Financing Agency with an initial capital base of Rs 1,000 crore that will leverage funds from the market and supplement them with donations and corporate social responsibility funds. These funds will be used to finance improvement in infrastructure. Details on the initiative are awaited.

(Views expressed are strictly those of Down to Earth.)
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