Union Budget 2024: Will centre meet rising demands of the education sector? Here’s what experts expect in Budget 2024

Union Budget 2024: Will centre meet rising demands of the education sector? Here’s what experts expect in Budget 2024

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Union Budget 2024 on July 23. Even as anticipation grows among citizens on the economic changes to be brought in by the latest budget, all eyes will be riveted on how the central government plans to meet the rising demands of the education sector, especially at a time when it has been drawing flak over the recent controversies involving crucial entrance examinations and accompanying features.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be presenting the Budget 2024 on July 23. What will be in store for the education sector? Here is what experts have to say. (ANI image)

Clearly, the Budget 2024 will be an acid test for the Modi Government.

Meanwhile, expectations are rife with regard to the likely changes and alternatives to be brought in by the new budget. Experts across academic circles aired their views and opinions to Hindustan Times Digital.

Need for GST exemption

Prateek Maheshwari, the Co-Founder of PW and Chair of the India EdTech Consortium (IEC), said that students hailing from Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Low-Income Groups should receive 100 percent GST exemption from all educational expenses, be it test-prep or job-oriented skill courses. He pointed out, “The 18 percent tax slab is extremely high for a need as basic as education. The government should derive a mechanism to enable more students in receiving quality education, and at the same time, make it affordable.”

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“We welcome the GST exemption related to student housing, however, it is important to remove the ambiguities. It continues to be a grey area, given the student needs to continuously reside in that accommodation for a period of 90 days. While the aim is to benefit the students, this exemption lacks clarity on execution in terms of timeline,” said Maheshwari.

Prioritising teacher training and digital infrastructure

Prajodh Rajan, the Co-Founder & Group CEO of Lighthouse Learning (formerly EuroKids International), said that a significant boost in education spending is crucial to unlock India’s true potential. Emphasizing a multi-faceted strategy, Rajan said, “We need to prioritize teacher training and development programmes as well as strengthen digital infrastructure to facilitate seamless learning experiences. Investing in upskilling our educators with the latest pedagogies and technologies is crucial for delivering high-quality education.”

He also underlined the importance of improving early childhood education infrastructure, which includes establishing more high-quality preschools, particularly in underserved communities. “Early education lays the foundation for lifelong learning, and ensuring accessibility for all is vital. A forward-thinking budget that prioritizes education will empower our youth, drive economic growth, and foster social progress. We are optimistic that the government will recognize these imperatives and create an environment where every student can thrive,” Rajan added.

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Introducing student-friendly education loans

Shweta Sastri, the Managing Director of Canadian International School, Bangalore, stressed that a substantial portion of the student community depends on educational loans to pursue their dream course. She said, “Encouraging more students to take up their course of interest with lower interest rates on such loans is essential for their optimal growth and development.”

She pointed out that the government should announce measures to further promote the integration of technology in education and to build future-ready skills in students which

Besides, improving internet connectivity infrastructure across the nation that promotes last-mile access was a point put forth by Sastri. She said, “Looking ahead, we must strive to ensure that the learning experience remains meaningful and enriching. It is important to nurture, challenge, and empower all students to be successful in whatever they choose in life.”

Expanding access to education and technology in underserved areas

Niru Agarwal, the Trustee of Greenwood High International School said that the upcoming budget should address core aspects of education to enhance the quality of learning, improve teacher professional skills, and build robust infrastructure. “While new educational policies have identified many path-breaking initiatives, we urge the government to focus on expanding access to education and technology, particularly in rural and underserved areas. We must build the right combination of Digital, Physical, and on-the-job classroom infrastructure that will improve the efficacy of learning,” Agarwal said.

She added, “Increasing women’s participation in STEM fields is also crucial, and at the same time, we must create an enabling environment to let the private sector come forward and establish new institutions. Ease of doing business is more important here than anywhere else. A supportive budget addressing these aspects will not only enable students to pursue their education dreams but also contribute significantly to India’s long-term economic and intellectual growth.”

Equitable access to high-quality education

Rustom Kerawalla, Chairperson and Founder of VIBGYOR Group said, “In the upcoming Union Budget 2024, we anticipate significant investment within the education sector. This includes enhancing infrastructure for effective education delivery, advancing teacher training, promoting inclusive education, and focusing on outcomes mapped to 21st-century skills. These priorities aim to ensure equitable access to high-quality education and build a resilient system that prepares students early on for real-world scenarios.”

He added, “Through collaborative tech-driven solutions, infrastructure upgrades, comprehensive training, advancements in pedagogy, and adapting to new-age learning methodologies, we can unleash the potential of educational reform.”

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Strengthening the Digital Infrastructure

Rohit Manglik, the Founder & CEO of EduGorilla said, “Technology holds great promise to revolutionise the education sector. It plays a significant role in ensuring equity in access to education, making it more affordable, and enabling on-the-go learning. Hence, the Union Budget 2024-25 must earmark allocations towards strengthening digital infrastructure, such as the National Optical Fibre Network and ensuring reliable Internet connectivity.”

“It should also prioritise adopting new-age technologies beyond Artificial Intelligence, such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, which have opened new avenues for immersive and interactive learning experiences,” he added.

Investments into the nation’s talent-pool

Aalok Kumar, the Corporate Officer & Senior VP – Head of the Global Smart City Business Development Department and President & CEO of NEC Corporation India, highlighted that the Government of India presented an interim budget that reinforced its vision for‘Viksit Bharat’ by 2047 – to accelerate India into a developed nation and foster inclusive economic participation among all citizens. “As we await the full budget, we expect clear and decisive provisions to advance this vision, with technology at the heart of this transformation.”

“While technology continues to drive India’s socio-economic progress, the key lies in building the nation into the knowledge capital of the world through enhanced R&D and innovation efforts. This will require continued and rigorous investments into the nation’s talent-pool through concerted training, skilling, and upskilling endeavours.”

Reduction in taxes for upskilling courses

Dr PR Sodani, the President of IIHMR University pointed out that with rapid technological advancements, students need to keep themselves updated for their secure future. “A reduction in taxes for upskilling courses will boost opportunities for innovation, inclusivity, allocation, and accessibility. Working closely with the healthcare sector, we urge for sturdy finance models to increase investment in healthcare infrastructure, consequently aiding the young minds engaged in health management studies.”

Reduction in GST on edtech services

Tarun Saini- CEO & Co-founder of Vidyakul, pointed out that edtech companies currently attract 18% GST, which impacts affordability in online education. “This is a concern that edtech companies have been talking about since the last budget session. A reduction in GST on edtech services will lower service prices, and boost affordability. We are hopeful the government will consider lowering the GST from the current 18%.”

“In addition to this, we are looking forward to a closer collaboration between policymakers, government, and startups in the form of PPPs (Public Private Partnerships) in the education sector. Connecting startups with education policymakers can create a powerful synergy to solve targeted problems and significantly enhance efforts to address critical issues,” he added.

Increasing the education budget to strengthen the educational framework

Sumit Singhal, Subject Matter Expert, at S.N. Dhawan & CO LLP, said, “The government should focus on increasing the education budget beyond 13% as it would provide continuous support for educational initiatives and further strengthen the educational framework.”

According to Singhal, such an increase would allow for more robust funding of critical programs, infrastructure development, and technological integration in schools and higher education institutions.”

Singhal also stressed on the need to reduce GST rates on digital educational content and services. “Lowering these rates would significantly enhance the affordability of online learning, which has become increasingly vital in today’s digital age. This measure would be advantageous for students by making high-quality educational resources more accessible, and at the same time, for edtech companies by fostering a more conducive environment for innovation and growth.”

He highlighted that a strategic increase in the education budget coupled with targeted tax relief measures can lead to substantial progress in the education sector, thereby benefiting students, and educators, and leading towards the transformation of the education sector.

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