With India entering the post-pandemic era, after nearly three years of massive disruption, the education sector is looking forward to the new normal, where constant upskilling and increasing digitalisation will be the order of the day.
All eyes will be on the budget allocation for the education sector, a year after it crossed the ₹1 lakh crore-mark for the first time.
As per the recommendations of the National Education Policy, 2020, the education budget should ideally be 6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. However, that figure has never been reached.
Mitra Ranjan of the Right to Education (RTE) Forum hopes that the government finally focuses on the education sector, seeing it "as an investment in the next generation of Indians."
"Education has been financially neglected during the pandemic. In 2020-21 education was placed in category C, the lowest priority among the various sectors," his letter to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reads.
School education, in particular, has been impacted due to the advent of digital learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic. According to an Azim Premji Foundation report, 60 per cent of school children cannot access online education due to lack of resources.
"Focus on online learning will further aggravate the deep-rooted socio - economic and cultural divide in the society," says Mr Mitra but adds that the government must focus on building basic infrastructure and a robust system of public education before going full throttle on digitalisation.
The Modi government has been a proponent of digitalisation, especially in education. The case in point: the announcement of a digital university, multilingual e-content and PM eVidya Scheme in the last Union Budget.
India's Edtech sector is looking forward to further support from the government in the upcoming budget; their main expectation being a major reduction in Goods and Services Tax (GST) on online education.
Currently, EdTech services attract a GST of 18 per cent, which the sector wants reduced to 12 per cent.
"With major investments aimed at widening access to digital infrastructure, the budget may place greater emphasis on the edtech sector. This will help improve accessibility and viability (to pursue online education) for students," says Dr Chenraj Roychand, Chancellor of JAIN (Deemed-to-be University).
Jaideep Kewalramani, Head of Employability Business at Teamlease Edtech, believes that e-learning can act as a big enabler to skill India's youth. "Youth who need access to platforms for skill development must get access to digital infrastructure through the Citizen Service Centers (CSCs)," he says. CSCs are digital-enabled public utility service delivery scheme.
Skill development is one of the several focus areas of the Modi government. India has one of the youngest working-age labour force and upskilling it can boost India's economy by US$570 billion by 2030.
Recently, the Modi government approved the proposal to allow foreign universities to open their campuses in India. Experts believe that the 2023 Budget can provide more clarity on the proposal and promote greater international collaborations in education and skill training.
"Indian universities must be enabled to tap into the global student population through cross-border partnerships. Institutions must be allowed to create path-breaking programs to impart 21st Century skills like Artificial Intelligence, drone technology and blockchain. This will help raise the employability quotient of students," argues Mr Kewalramani.
Numerous international universities, whose campuses the Modi government wants in India, have had a rich research culture - in natural as well as social sciences. This is in contrast to India, where only 0.7 per cent of the GDP goes into funding science research and development.
However, India's premier institute IIT-Madras is looking forward to an enhanced budget for research and development this year. Prof Mahesh Panchagnula, Dean (Alumni and Corporate Relations), expects the Union Budget to create multiple pathways for research and development.
"It will be great to see tax incentives for corporate India to fund research. Also, universities translating research into technology for societal benefit should be rewarded," he adds.