The allocation for education in the Union Budget 2023-24 increased by 13%, with a boost for some of the Centre’s flagship education schemes.
In the budget, the government has provided an outlay of Rs. 1.13 lakh crore for education, up from Rs 1 lakh crore in the revised estimates for 2022-23. The allocation for the school education department grew 16% from Rs. 59,053 crore to Rs. 68,805 crore, while the higher education department saw its estimated expenditure increase 8% from Rs. 40,828 crore to Rs. 44,094 crore.
The outlay for Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the Centre’s overarching programme for improving school education, surged from Rs. 32,152 crore to Rs. 37,453 crore. The government also allocated Rs. 4,000 crore for PM Schools for Rising India (PM SHRI) programme. The centrally sponsored scheme, launched in September last year, seeks to develop 14,500 existing government-run schools across the country to be developed as ‘exemplar’ schools showcasing all components of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. An amount of Rs. 27,360 crore will be spent on the scheme, with the Centre contributing Rs. 18128 crore, over the five-year period from 2022-23 to 2026-27.
However, the budgetary allocation for mid-day meals provided to school students under Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN) scheme has dipped from Rs. 12,800 crore to Rs. 11,600 crore.
Among higher education schemes, Rashtriya Uchchatar Shikshan Abhiyan (RUSA), which provides funding for setting up new colleges and universities and the improvement of existing ones, has seen a rise in its outlay from Rs 360.67 crore in 2023-24 budget to Rs. 1,500 crore in 2022-23 (revised estimates). Rs. 1,554 have been earmarked for PM Uchchatar Shiksha Protsahan (PM-USP) Yojna, which include Scholarship for College and University Students and Special Scholarship Scheme for Jammu and Kashmir. The revised outlay for these schemes was Rs. 243 crore and Rs. 200 crore, respectively, in the previous year.
While educationists have welcomed the growth in the educational budget, they feel that the sector needs much more investment by the government. “It’s good to see an increase in the planned expenditure, particularly one that is ahead of inflation, but we are nowhere near education accounting for 6% of Gross Domestic Product GDP,” said Anjela Taneja, Public Services and Inequality Policy and Advocacy Lead, Oxfam International.
Taneja also said that instead of spending on schemes like PM SHRI, which focuses on selected schools, the government should have invested in equitable education for all. “India has over 1.3 million schools. Upgrading 14,500 schools as exemplary schools under PM SHRI would not do much to enhance the overall standards of education in the country, but it could increase educational inequality. India deserves investment in the equitable quality of education for all,” she said.
Sadat Hussain, an education researcher, said that the government needs to multiply its spending on SSA. “Rs. 8,364 crore have been allotted for Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs), even though there are only 1,245 of these schools across the country. However, SSA, which caters to around 14 lakh schools, got only 37,453 crore. If the state board schools are to be brought to KVs’ levels, expenditure on them must increase multifold,” he said.
While appreciating the bigger allotment for flagship programmes Farida Lambay, co founder of Pratham Foundation, said that the earmarked funds should be spent on the children’s learning and well-being, and not just on administrative and infrastructure expenses. “The budgetary allocations must be aligned with the NEP and Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan goals. There should be a balance in what’s spent on children, and what’s spent on infrastructure and administration.”
Lambay also criticised the reduced outlay for the PM POSHAN scheme. “The NEP lays importance on Early Childhood Care and Education and nutrition an integral part of that. If the government doesn’t spend on mid-day meals, how can it ensure nutrition among children?”