Infrastructure status, priority lending to education hold key

NIRF rankings, education
Government-funded institutions continue to dominate NIRF rankings, highlighting the need to increase public expenditure on such institutions.

By Rustom Kerawalla

The Indian economy is expected to grow at a fast clip over the next 30 years to become the third largest in the world. India’s growth in the last 20 years has been phenomenal with the government opening up various sectors for private entities and international investment.

India’s rise as an economic powerhouse has been a case study with several international mergers and acquisitions of huge conglomerates that redefined the country’s global footprint. India’s GDP growth was the result of policies that allowed private participation in sectors such as power, defence, space, transportation, roadways, and telecommunications. In addition, a number of start-ups brushed aside their sustenance concerns and fuelled growth by hiring highly skilled workforce and created demand and consumption, providing consistent growth and optimism. All this has strengthened the private sector and reduced the overall dependence on the public sector units, many of which are divesting and rationalising their priorities and investments.

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The foundation of India’s emergence was laid by a robust education system that created skilled personnel and resources. The Right to Education Act has mandated compulsory schooling for students up to 14 years and which could soon result in a need to accommodate more students of higher age groups. This would be herculean task that will need political will on the part of the leadership and support from bureaucracy.

The government will have to garner all means at their disposal and integrate modern technology to create robust systems of learning at par with those in the developed nations. With limited public spending, which is much lower than that in developed countries, India will have to look at other resources for building modern education systems. This won’t be possible without a push from the government towards conferring infrastructure status to education that will help the sector get better access to finance through priority lending. This will help create a progressive image for the sector, and will allow private institutions to invest in India without worrying about the cost of funds.

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India will have to look at higher social sector spending with education and health expected to boom in the next three decades. As the education sector basks in the limelight of the National Education Policy, it will need an effective implementation mechanism with the participation of the private sector.

The 21st century is often termed as the Indian century. If the education sector doesn’t get its due, growth will stagnate for need of skilled manpower to drive its growth engines. The infrastructure status will help the sector get its share of benefits and concessions, helping it raise funds from various agencies including international lenders for longer tenures and on easier terms. It will also lead to an uptick in private investment into the system and with the government divesting the operations and management of schools to private enterprises. This will enable standardisation of education across the country, leaving the onus of the delivery of high-quality education on to private players.

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The private sector has benefitted from the opening up of the infrastructure and defence sectors. Infrastructure status to the logistics sector (2017) gave a major fillip to several allied services including warehousing, reducing pilferage to the tune of crores of rupees, especially from the agrarian sector.

With these measures, the private industry that was kept at an arm’s length has started investing in remote areas. The integration of education along with infrastructure status and priority lending will help India become hub for Asia’s education, research and training, heling the country reduce brain drain. The government will need to scale up to keep pace with the rapid increase in demand for higher learning, skilling and vocational training. It will need to create collaborative and participative modules with the private sector to provide every child quality education and skills in a standardised, sustained, and successful way.

(Rustom Kerawalla is the chairman of Ampersand Group. The views are personal.)