Senior editor Shamni Pande
No one really expected Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to change course drastically when it came to the agenda on education, skill development, or that of generating employment. The highlight in Union Budget 2015/16 is also not in how much money Jaitley has allocated, but really in how the system will work to deliver.
For instance, launching a National Skills Mission through the Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Ministry was something industry was expecting.
However, the fact that it is intended to consolidate skill initiatives that are spread across several ministries and standardize procedures and outcomes for the 31 Sector Skill Councils, is indeed welcome. This is because the skill development providers have had to deal with the problem of having to deal with varying requirements of different ministries for at least five years now. Also, there is an attempt to link and co-ordinate the Skill Mission with Make in India.
There is now also a creditable attempt to cut leakage by introducing digital vouchers for qualified students to benefit from the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gramin Kaushal Yojana where Rs 1,500 crore has been earmarked for assistance. This is basically a revamped version of Aajeevika Skills that was launched by the previous regime as a sub-mission under the National Rural Livelihood Mission. It seeks to train 10 lakh rural youth, above the age of 15 years, by 2017. This attempt at ushering transparency is also visible in the decision to set up an IT-based Student Financial Aid Authority to administer and monitor scholarships as well educational loan schemes, through the Pradhan Mantri Vidya Lakshmi Karyakram for needy students wanting to pursue higher education.
There is acknowledgement of the fact that skill providers are not always able to connect trained youth to jobs and that they need to willy-nilly become entrepreneurs. Hence, the proposal to create a Micro Units Development Refinance Agency (MUDRA) Bank, with a corpus of Rs 20,000 crore, and a credit guarantee corpus of Rs 3,000 crore is seen as progressive. MUDRA Bank will, in turn, refinance Micro-Finance Institutions through a Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana.
Of course, the Finance Minister does realise the bigger pay for this. "Fiscal consolidation of 3 per cent of GDP in two years can only be realised only when skilled people get more job opportunities and self-employment opportunities. Proper market access to rural youth is equally important to enhance innovation and entrepreneurship," says Prof. Rupa Manjari Ray, Assistant Professor, Economics, MDI Gurgaon.
Of course, there is the increased outlay on education sector to Rs 68,968 crore that includes mid-day meals and Rs 79,526 crore for rural development activities including MGNREGA. To ensure a senior secondary school within five km reach of each child, the Budget has announced an upgradation over 80,000 secondary schools and will add or upgrade 75,000 junior/middle, to the senior secondary level.
And there will be more All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), IITs and IIMs. But, here the point raised by Fr. E. Abraham, S.J., Director, XLRI, is pertinent: "It's equally important to ensure that there is a long-term pipeline of qualified faculty to teach in all the new central institutes," he says as he welcomes the announcements.
Eventually, all of education and skilling is about gaining employment. Here the biggest incentive, as Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, TeamLease, points out is not in the related scheme but in the announcement of giving employees from weaker section the choice that their contribution to EPF could be optional, without affecting or reducing the employer's contribution.
Also, with respect to ESI, the employee should have the option of choosing either ESI or a Health Insurance product, recognised by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority. While amendment in legislation will happen later, but Sabharwal feels that this could be the biggest game-changer when it comes to labour reforms and bringing young people into formal employment.
So it is not how much has the Finance Minister allocated, but in his apparent recognition of 'how' the education, skill development will eventually lead to employment. "The need is to execute and this has been addressed in a different way," says Sabharwal.