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India's education sector: A critical analysis

  A number of issues are brewing in India's education sector. Be it primary, secondary or post secondary segments, let's take a look at how the government is out to revamp the many age-old practices and revitalise the country's education sector.  

Dr Suresh Srinivasan

Recently the Human Resources Development (HRD) ministry of the Central government appointed Kasturirangan to head a panel that would go on to prepare a new education policy.Under Kasturirangan, there would be a panel of nine members who would prepare the new education policy.

In 2015, a former committee headed by TSR Subramanian had made recommendations towards a new education policy, but the same was not accepted by the HRD ministry which was then headed by the then HRD minister Smriti Irani. It is expected that the new committee will take on the work of the earlier committee and come up with recommendations by as early as March 2018.

Indian education sector - the pain points

Discrepancy in literary figures between men and women
Wide discrepancy in Indian education sector is marred with several problems, as we speak. Over the years literacy rate in the country has increased, but still low at 75% as compared to global peers. Again there is a wide discrepancy in literacy figures between men and women; women significantly lacking access to education and eventually literacy.

Low enrolment and high dropout rates in the primary sector
Low enrolment and high dropout rates in the primary sector have been major problems. With poverty still a major curse, especially in the rural areas, girl children often discontinue from the formal education system rampantly. However, over the years, the situation has slightly improved. Secondary and post secondary education sectors have also improved and along with that higher education and scientific research levels have also got a boost. This sector has got such a significant boost that now, enrolment to post secondary education stands close to 25%.

Lack of basic infrastructure facilities in classrooms
Schools lack basic infrastructure facilities including classrooms, facilities for drinking water and separate toilets for female students. In the post secondary sector, even the most prominent institutes in the country do not find a top rank when it comes to global excellence. And the reasons for our lagging behind are mostly, dearth of qualified faculty and a lack in research focus.

Redundant curriculum
At all levels of education, curriculum is predominantly redundant and has not been revised in a timely manner to keep pace with the changing external dynamics. The focus, in terms of teaching and exams, has always been centered around merely attending classes and memorising the concepts, but with very little experiential learning methods. Whereas practicalities in implementing knowledge gained in terms of concepts, it takes a higher weightage in global institutions.

Expensive education, low affordability
Education again, at all levels, has been highly expensive and its affordability is quite low. Especially with government and corporation run schools lacking quality teachers, even the lowest economic strata of the population are not comfortable in sending their wards to such schools.

From 'demographic dividend' to 'demographic liability'
For India to have the highest proportion of population in the productive age group is often considered to be 'demographic dividend', but unfortunately a poorly educated and under skilled workforce is more of a burden than an opportunity of any sorts. This is a major threat India is currently facing and in no time such a 'demographic dividend' can turn into a 'demographic liability' when this 'so called' productive workforce does not find adequate opportunities, not being 'industry ready'.

India has very high ambitions when it comes to the national skilling mission that targets a large part of the population to be skilled by 2022. However, on ground, the progress has been minimal, especially given the mammoth size of the population we are dealing with.

In the midst of fighting so many economic issues, governments have been unable to frequently revise the country's education policy in a timely manner and execute it efficiently. The country's first national policy on education was released in 1968, 21 years after independence and was revised 18 years later in 1986. The third revision is happening now, 31 years later.

Subramanian Committee directives
The Subramanian Committee seems to have provided a number of far reaching recommendations including abolition of the University Grants Commission (UGC). They also seem to have advocated teaching of English language at the primary school level and continue in force the 'no-detention' policy till the fifth standard. The committee also has possibly seen a gap between our current education system and the contemporary international standards. There seems to have been an enormous stress in terms of improving the quality and also allowing foreign universities into India to offer globally benchmarked education programmes.

Challenges ahead in this road
One of the biggest challenges in this regard, is the inability of the government to allocate funds towards the education sector. Given the fact that the government's primary role is to provide quality education and healthcare, it has managed to allocate a mere `45,000 crore towards primary education and a similar amount towards higher education, on an annual basis. It is fair that the government is scrambling for resources across various sectors that need pressing investments, including infrastructure, defence, public spending as well as education and healthcare.

What it has ignored is the public private policy (PPP) route where many developing and developed countries have skillfully managed larger allocations to education sector with minimum government investments.

How government run schools are fading out
In India although the government schools still continue to be the largest education providers, they have lost the competitiveness against the expensive private schools, mainly on account of poor management. When we analyse the international PPP models in primary education, with minimum government fund infusions and resource allocation in terms of management, private partners run the schools with majority investments and are able to innovate and create models of quality within the government systems. In these models, minimum funds flow from the government but they are able to control the process of education delivery by the private operator. Global models have shown that with the same 'cost per student' levels the quality of education can be significantly enhanced.

India has tried out some of these models, but the experiments have to be executed on much larger scale. Especially with the government owning corporation school infrastructure at prime real estate locations, it would have to evolve the PPP guidelines such that the partnership will be attractive enough for the private players to get involved.

How the existing education policy can be reformed
The government has realised that the only way to speed up the education policy reforms is to cut through the complexity in the regulatory system, consolidate the decision making bodies to simplify and thereby easing the process of setting up, running and administering institutions of higher education in the country.

Media reports have also recently indicated that the HRD minister is intending to dissolve the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) and replace them with a single body, which is expected to be called as 'Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA)'. With these in mind, education sector in India might actually get revamped in the years to come.

INDIA INC: AT A GLANCE

Merger & Acquisition activity reduces in India
The merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in India, during the September quarter stood at 15,000 crore, lower by around 80% compared to figures last year. The reduction can mostly be attributed to the impact of GST and a further lingering effect of demonetisation.

Bottleneck situation for Tata Steel's Thyssenkrupp deal
There has been a setback to Tata Steel's deal to form an equal joint venture with Germany's Thyssenkrupp AG. This proposed joint venture with Thyssenkrupp's steel business is being opposed by the staff unions. This bottleneck situation can further worsen the already poor financial position of its European steel business in the days to come.

Recent wave of telecom consolidations sweeps the country
Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd can be credited for triggering the recent wave of consolidations in the telecom sector and ushering in a data revolution in the country. The acquisition of Tata group's wireless phone business last week, virtually for free, by Bharti Airtel Ltd is just the latest outcome of the consolidation frenzy that has mostly swept through India's telecom industry over the past one year. However analysts have predicted that any positive impact to the industry because of these consolidations will still take nearly 18 months to come.

Prospect of a brewing Bharat Financial Inclusion's acquisition by IndusInd Bank
IndusInd Bank is in talks with India's second largest microfinance company Bharat Financial Inclusion for a possible acquisition. Financial inclusion is the biggest challenge facing the economy of a nation. Banks are showing interest to acquire micro financing institutions to reach the bottom of the pyramid.

Fortifying Bharti Airtel's position in telecom market
The acquisition of the consumer mobile business of Tata Teleservice will fortify Bharti Airtel's position in telecom market and help it catch up with soon-to-be-merged Idea-Vodafone combine. The top three players Bharti Airtel, Vodafone-Idea and Jio will virtually control the entire market.

ONGC looks at selling its existing stake in other PSUs
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, India's state-run petroleum explorer, may look at selling its existing stake in other Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) to partly fund the planned acquisition of downstream refiner Hindustan Petroleum Corp.

Zee announces 100% acquisition of 9X Media and INX Music
Subhash Chandra promoted Zee Entertainment has announced 100% acquisition of 9X Media and INX Music for a total cash consideration of `160 crore. Zee Entertainment has been aggressively growing and is positioned as the largest entertainment as well as media company in the country.
Bharti Airtel fully acquires Tikona Digital Networks
Bharti Airtel has fully acquired Tikona Digital Networks, the Digital's 4G airwaves company for `1,600 crore, in its bid to boost its high-speed broadband spectrum holdings. This acquisition is mostly for taking on Jio and the Vodafone-Idea Cellular combine in a fiercely competitive telecom market.

Future Group all set to acquire HyperCity
Kishore Biyani owned Future Group is all set to acquire HyperCity, a premium chain of 19 hypermarkets from Shoppers Stop for `700 crore through a combination of cash and shares. This powerful acquisition will further consolidate Kishore Biyani's footprint in the western part of India.untry.

Bank unions demand to stall the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with accounts
Joining the Aadhaar seeding debate, public sector banks' union of officers has demanded that the mandatory linking of biometric identity number should be put on hold till such time the Supreme Court comes out with a clear directive.

Reliance in talks to acquire DEN Networks
Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries is said to be in talks to acquire Sameer Manchanda promoted multi-system operator DEN Networks. DEN Networks Limited is India's largest cable TV distribution company serving 13 million homes in over 200 cities.

T-Mobile US Inc might merge with Sprint Corp
T-Mobile US Inc is close to agreeing to the tentative terms on a deal to merge with Sprint Corp. This is a major initiative in the US telecom sector where the third and fourth largest US wireless carriers are in talks towards merger. This reflects a similar pattern to the Indian telecom industry, which has seen a latest wave of consolidations.

Max Financial Services-HDFC Life merger falls through
The proposed merger of Max Financial Services with HDFC Life has fallen through. Kotak as well Aditya Birla Capital have held preliminary and exploratory talks with Max Financial promoter Analjit Singh over a possible merger talk.