Opinion: Is Government prioritising spend in the right segments?

By Ankur Dhawan

Photo: Nikhita

India has the world’s largest youth population and there have been many discussions around whether this will turn out as a demographic advantage or a demographic burden? As per the latest report by the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2019, conducted by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), India’s Higher Education Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER), which is calculated for 18-23 years of age group, is just 26.3 %. This means that as many as 74 students out of 100 students in the age group 18 – 23 are not enrolled in higher education. 

This poor enrolment means that Indian youth are not acquiring requisite skills to be gainfully employed in the knowledge economy and hence can’t be a demographic advantage. According to the National Sample Survey (NSS), this poor GER is mainly due to financial challenges students face in continuing their studies. Scholarships have been a major intervention from the government in facilitating students in completing their studies. As per our estimates, close to INR 20,000 Cr of scholarships are distributed annually by state and central governments altogether. But, is this fund really directed towards solving higher education GER problems? 

Where is the rationale?

We looked at the data available on one of the key government portals – National Scholarship Portal (NSP). As per NSP, the academic year 2019-20 witnessed disbursal of close to INR 2,566 Cr of scholarships as on 12th May, 2020.  The scholarships are basically divided into three categories – Pre-Matric (Class 1 to 10), Post Matric (Class 11, 12, UG, PG) and Higher Education (UG, PG, Professional and Technical Courses). Besides this, the Department of School Education and Literacy offers another scholarship which is meant for students from Class 9-12. 

A fact which strikes out from the below chart is the poor allocation of scholarships towards higher education. 

Scholarship Provider Total disbursed amont (2019-20)Pre-Matric (Class 1 to 10)Post-Matric (Class 11, 12, UG, PG)Higher Education (Exclusively)
Ministry of Minority Affairs 21,89,86,43,307                            14,08,85,46,988                                      4,74,74,15,266                                3,06,26,81,053 
Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disability74,67,30,96916,93,35,00054,60,60,9863,13,34,983
Department of Higher Education1,37,43,60,00000                               1,37,43,60,000 
Department of School Education and Literacy*1,47,85,95,000NANANA
Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment1,34,38,733001,34,38,733
Ministry of Tribal Affairs 15,09,85,8100015,09,85,810
Total25,66,27,53,819                            14,25,78,81,988                                      5,29,34,76,252                                4,63,28,00,579 

* Applicable for students of Class IX to XII (Total fund: 1,47,85,95,000)

This allocation does not make sense as till Class 8, the government ensures free education for all under Right to Education (RTE) act hence they don’t need support through scholarships. The government spends a large part of its education budget on school education. Further, the major part of the budget in higher education goes to premier institutions such as IITs, IISc and Central Universities.

The ground reality

This uneven scholarship fund allocation for higher education is despite the fact that GER is very poor in the segment and there is a desperate need for financial support to increase enrolment at college and university level. 

*Source: Based on 2018 MHRD Report on Literacy and GER statistics 

The above graph shows that there is a 99.2% Gross Enrolment Ratio at primary levels. This is because of the large government school infrastructure which provides free education to students under Right to Education policy. Similarly, GER at secondary and senior secondary level though is lesser than primary level, it is still not as critically low as in higher education. Given this data, it seems logical that the government should be spending more on scholarships for higher education than on primary and secondary levels. 

Sample this: 

The Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) disbursed a total of INR 2190 Cr of scholarship funds in the year 2019-20. The pre-matric scholarship schemes grabbed a lion’s share with about 65 % of the total fund. Further, the post-matric scholarship which is also meant for Class 11 and 12 along with UG and PG has higher disbursal than the fund disbursed exclusively for higher education.

The Department of Higher Education (DHE) which is dedicated to higher education distributed only INR 137 Cr. This fund as compared to MoMA’s pre-matric scholarship is less than 10 %. 

Just for the record, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Ministry of Social Justice had disbursed scholarships of INR 15 Cr and INR 1.3 Cr respectively under their respective schemes meant for ST and SC students pursuing higher education. 

The scholarship disbursement in higher education is also critical factoring the higher cost of education in college/universities.

Govt must prioritise GER in Higher Education now

Though primary education is critical to create a base for higher education, the government should critically look at its scholarship policies.  The countries which have prioritised their higher education and allocated significant budget to it have many practical lessons for us.

China, for example, did massive spend on education towards the end of last century. It increased its higher education budget outlay three-fold to encourage and support students pursuing higher education. The results have the world in awe. China has not only been able to increase its GER multi-fold, but the country also has many institutions ranking among the world’s top institutions now. In the year 2000, China had a GER of 7.6 % as compared to India’s 9.5 % in the same year.  Over the last two decades, however, the country has achieved a GER of 50 % while India still lags at 26 %, nearly half the China’s mark. China is now undoubtedly reaping the benefit of a skilled workforce. Its skilled and efficient human resources have enabled the country to push more of its manufacturing products to the international market and tap the opportunities available in this era of globalisation.  

It’s time India should rethink spend in higher education and create a much stronger financial support system for students. It will not only help the students to complete their higher education and acquire latest industry skills but also help them contribute to the country’s economy in many productive ways.

Author Ankur Dhawan is the COO at Buddy4Study

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of News Sense and News Sense does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.