Union Budget 2021 | Central university to come up in Ladakh

Allocations for school education fall, FM does not mention adverse impact of pandemic on schooling

With Ladakh now being recognised as a separate Union Territory, the Centre proposes to set up a new Central university in Leh, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Monday.

The Education Ministry intends to introduce the Central University of Ladakh Bill in the second half of the current Budget session of Parliament itself, Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare told The Hindu.

The Finance Minister also said that an announcement she made two years ago in her Budget speech 2019-20 would come to fruition this year, as the Centre plans to introduce legislation to establish a new regulatory body, the Higher Education Commission of India.

Both the School Department and Higher Education Department have seen their budget allocation fall for 2021-22. However, Mr. Khare says this is partly because all research funding, which used to come through the erstwhile Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), is now being rerouted through the new National Research Foundation (NRF) instead.

“The NRF is a very important step towards implementation of the National Education Policy. Earlier, MHRD’s research funding would go only to Central universities. However, State universities and even private universities can now access research grants through NRF on a competitive basis. The Education Ministry is working closely with the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor for implementation of the NRF,” he said.

In nine cities that are hubs of higher education, with multiple research institutions, universities and colleges supported by the Centre, a new grant is being offered to create formal umbrella structures that will maximise research synergies, while also retaining internal autonomy. Ms. Sitharaman offered the example of Hyderabad, which has 40 such major Central institutions.

Allocations for school education have been reduced from a budget estimate of almost ₹60,000 crore in 2020-21 to a budget estimate of almost ₹55,000 crore in 2021-22. In fact, the budget allocated for the core Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan scheme is only ₹31,300 crore, well below the last year’s budget estimate of ₹38,860 crore, though actual expenditure in 2020-21 was only ₹28,077 crore as schools across the country were shut due to COVID-19.

“The allocations are nowhere close to the required amount needed to undo the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure every child returns to school,” said Ambarish Rai, convenor of the Right to Education Forum. “Online courses do not guarantee quality education; rather, it widens the inequality, as evident over the last 10 months,” he added.

He was disappointed that Ms. Sitharaman had made no mention of the impact of the pandemic on school education during her speech. Instead, she only announced that 100 new Sainik schools would be set up in partnership with NGOs, private schools and States, while 15,000 government schools would be developed as “exemplar” or model schools in terms of NEP implementation.

“There was no mention of operationalisation of the Gender Inclusion Fund promised in NEP 2020, which is essential given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on girls,” said Mr. Rai. “Instead, funds for the National Scheme for Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education got reduced to merely ₹1 crore from ₹110 crore last year,” he added.

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