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Achieving Education Goals in India

Dr. Satinder Bhatia, Professor & Chairperson - International Projects Division, IIFT
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Dr. Satinder Bhatia, Professor & Chairperson - International Projects Division, IIFT
Satinder handles the Managerial Accounting, Project Appraisal & Finance and Financial Management courses at IIFT. She has special interest towards Finance and Domestic & Foreign Trade, and is also the author of two books – Cost of Capital & Corporate Policy, and Policy Impediments to Trade and FDI in India.

Land acquisition for industrialization has been a major problem in India leading to cancellation or inordinate delays in many projects. At the same time, there are many institutions in the country like the Indian Railways or the Indian National Army that possess surplus land. The Government is taking appropriate steps to re-allocate land wherever possible so that it finds its most appropriate use. Government schools and universities too have a lot of surplus land. Most government schools, even in urban areas where land is at a premium, are built over vast tracts of land with 40-50 percent of that simply earmarked as playground. Some schools have now started constructing facilities like swimming pools and offering to the public for a fee, thereby generating additional revenue for the school. While any additional use of the asset for public good is laudable, the question is whether this is the most appropriate use of the given land and what can be done to make such practices more widespread. Such practices are not only absent in rural areas but are also not seen in institutions of higher learning such as colleges and universities.

Firstly, what alternative projects can be taken up to not only better utilize the asset but also achieve the stated goals of the government in the education sector. It is no secret that despite a big push by the government through schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), there are still over eight million children out of formal school education. Even in higher education, a huge shortage of colleges is becoming more and more evident, with students having to opt for out-of-state colleges. Most of the government schools and colleges, especially in the non-science streams, operate only till about 3 PM. Wouldn’t it be better to have a second shift to fully utilise the asset? Alas, we are told that the enrolment in government schools has been falling sharply as parents prefer private schools offering English-medium education. In that case, it might be better to let private parties use the existing facilities, particularly in the evening, and thereby increase the enrolment at the primary and secondary levels.

Given that land is at a high premium, particularly in urban areas, the sheer size of the available facility will, in itself, be a big attraction for the private entrepreneurs. The government could, thus, earn appropriate lease rentals and also take satisfaction at seeing higher enrolments at all levels. The lease rentals earned could be used to further enhance the physical infrastructure, invest in teacher training and conduct of workshops for students.

Although government schools occupy vast tracts of land, the school buildings often lack crucial infrastructure like laboratories, toilets and hostel facilities. Over the last two years, the government’s Swacch Bharat Mission (sanitation mission) entailed toilet-building in each school and rural household at a furious pace. But, paucity of funds is beginning to hit the scheme. Hence, it is better to incentivise the school management to explore ways of enhancing school revenue and use the same for the development of the school. The institutions of higher learning can similarly lease out their facilities during non-business hours to private operators for offering degrees/diplomas/certificates to the applicants. Many colleges may like to set up vocational training institutes run by the private sector within their premises. This may further enhance the attainment of goals set under the Skill India Initiative.

True, it is not just physical infrastructure that comes in the way of attainment of goals under universal access to education or the clean India mission. But that may be one barrier that can be easily dealt with through such arrangements of co-sharing and leasing. At a time when restaurants have started leasing out their space to companies for use as work place, government schools and colleges can easily come forward and exploit successfully the one asset that they have, and that others envy a lot.

Public-Private partnerships (PPPs) are increasingly being discussed as a solution to the problems in the education sector. The most discussed forms of PPPs are whole adoption of government schools/colleges whereby the private party is responsible for the management of these institutions within the framework of rules and regulations set by the government, and the voucher system whereby vouchers are given to parents to select a school of their choice with the subsidy provided by the government to the school for the same. The lease arrangement discussed above may be the simplest form of PPP that may set the ball rolling. This arrangement also works on the strengths of the government institutions. Once private schools/colleges also run the same courses as the government in the same premises, it is possible that through the demonstration effect, there will be a lot of cross-learning for both parties.

Nonetheless, improving learning outcomes requires attention at many levels combining many socio-economic factors which differ from region to region and state to state. Yet, the good thing is that there are many models working well in the country that provide sufficient motivation to re-structure methods of education delivery in government institutions. This will be required even as digital learning advances rapidly in the country.

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