Union Budget 2022 Should Look Beyond Mainstream Education, Bridge Digital Divide: Experts

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Union Budget 2022 Should Look Beyond Mainstream Education, Bridge Digital Divide: Experts

In a year where schools have not completely reopened, college education continues to remain online, when teachers have become content creators, the job market has ended up being volatile with some freshers getting jobs in packages worth crores and others left to look for a new one after being handed a pink slip – there is a lot of uncertainty. In such a time demand from the education sector for an upcoming budget too have been different than usual. While some have asked to develop infrastructure, others have demanded for skilling initiatives.

The Union Budget 2022 will be announced on February 1 by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Last year, the government had slashed the allocation towards education in the annual budget by 6 per cent which amounted to a total allocation of Rs 93,223 crores. In 2020, the budget against education was Rs 99,311. This year, experts want not only an increase in the budget but also put a focus on the edtech sector, its infrastructure, and reskilling of employees.

Focus on edtech

Since the pandemic has focused on online learning, the budget must consider edtech as a potent tool that can multiply the reach of education, say experts. An allocation of 7-8 per cent should be given to edtechs, says Akshay Munjal, founder, and CEO, Hero Vired in addition to rationalising 18 per cent GST in online education services. “This would go a long way in making e-learning more affordable and realising its benefits,” says Munjal.

A host of schemes related to edtech must be included in the budget this year “pertaining to Public Private Partnerships (PPP), subsidies, or Direct Bank Transfers (DBT) to enable citizens to procure devices, connectivity, and even subscription to educational services that will enable them to garner knowledge amidst closure of their educational institutions,” he adds.

Upgrade education infrastructure

There is an urgent need to upgrade overall educational infrastructure as well as technology, research facilities, and physical infrastructure, says Kamlesh Vyas, Partner, Deloitte Touche Tohamatsu LLP. There can be the appointment of professional fund managers to enable higher returns on corpus through diversification of investment portfolios beyond fixed deposits and government securities. The government may also include an operating model for setting up international branches of HEIs in India through direct investment or collaboration with domestic universities, he adds.

Virtual classes in colleges have become a necessity due to COVID and the infrastructure required for it has increased the cost incurred by the students even further. Many students in India don’t have access to a laptop or a stable internet connection. There needs to be a focus on ensuring that the required infrastructure is developed adequately and is available to everyone, says Ruchir Arora, Co-Founder & CEO, CollegeDekho.

Reskilling Need of Hour

Budget 2022-23 must provide allocations and incentives for reskilling initiatives and ensure that India’s workforce remains globally competitive, says Rajiv Tandon CEO – Executive Education BITS Pilani, WILP. According to a LinkedIn survey, 42 per cent of the core skills required for jobs would change. Several may lose their jobs or face underemployment unless they reskill hence the budget “must provide to encourage lifelong learning & reskilling by the Indian workforce through allocations, tax benefits for salaried employees and incentives to the employers,” adds Tandon.

The pandemic’s impact on the education system, particularly the public education system, has increased the reliance of all students on supplementary sources of education that are provided by private organisations. Traditionally, such sources have been categorized under ‘Educational Services’ and taxed at 18 per cent under Goods & Services Tax (GST). “We expect the government to revise the GST rate for this category to 5 per cent, thereby easing the financial pressure on the students’ parents, particularly those from lower and middle-class families,” says Lehar Tawde, co-founder ConnectEd.

The co-working industry has become more relevant than ever and the demand for co-working spaces has surged significantly owing to its affordable pricing options and flexible work culture. Hence, the government must enable co-working firms to claim input credits on work contracts and construction services supplied, as detailed under GST provisions that can enable outflow of cash and can be spared from 18 per cent levy, which is crucial in this pandemic time, says Manas Mehrotra, Founder, 315Work Avenue.

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