Union Budget 2021: Time to invest in virtual forms of education, say experts, tell govt to plug gaps in sector

Teachers, too, have been severely impacted due to COVID-19 as many faced job cuts or mental pressures to train themselves quickly to adopt to online teaching.

FP Staff January 27, 2021 15:07:22 IST
Union Budget 2021: Time to invest in virtual forms of education, say experts, tell govt to plug gaps in sector

Representational image. Sigmund/Unsplash

Budget 2021 will require some delicate balancing act, with so many issues and consequential need gaps across sectors and education is no exception. The pandemic has severely impacted education in India country with over 200 million children losing out a year full of schooling. Teachers, too, have been severely impacted as many faced job cuts or mental pressures to train themselves quickly to adopt to online teaching.

Experts in the sector and digital learning portals shared their concerns and suggested ways online education could be made glitch-free with Firstpost:

Akhil Shahani, managing director, Shahani Group

The New Education Policy should have been implemented years ago to enable India's education system to catch up with that of other fast-developing nations in Asia. It would have been good to have some more innovative ideas implemented like recognition of pathway/twinning programs with foreign universities, permission for for-profit firms to set up schools and colleges, allowing corporate CSR funding for primary research in universities and allowing universities to offer online degrees to outside their geographical jurisdiction.

Krishna Kumar, CEO and founder, Simplilearn

As part of the upcoming Union Budget, it would be encouraging to both learners and edtech platforms if the government would introduce a reduction on GST for online education services. Additionally, the government should also consider including a budget focused on teacher training at both school and university levels, keeping in mind the several challenges faced in the midst of the ‘New Normal’.

With the need and demand for digital skilling going high, we want the government to encourage public-private partnership model with edtech companies at a national and state level with a larger agenda of making Indian IT workforce skill and job-ready.

Bharat Goyal, Founder and Director, Bhartiyam International School

In our country, the core services provided by schools, colleges and universities remain outside the umbrella of GST. Having said this, there are out-of-school education like hobby classes, sports training that are taxed 18 percent and when they are passed on to the parents, they feel the pinch. One expects reconsideration of GST slab on supplementary education in the upcoming Budget. There needs to be an increase in facilities that aim to build capacity of the teachers, and the support extended to the anganwadi workers should be bolstered. The expense for the same is huge which is why budgetary allocation for the education sector has to be stepped up from the existing levels. It needs to be mentioned here that as things stand right now, the current level of around is only around three percent of GDP.

Shashank Pandey, Co-founder of ConveGenius

The National Education Policy 2020 is very progressive in its terms. The major challenge is the implementation. The involvement of technology can play a crucial role in bringing blended learning into the picture. Edtech can work as a support system for many teachers and educational institutes to provide personalised learning experiences through gamification, experiential, and adaptive learning methods. This way, teachers can focus on improving the pedagogy and content delivery for the entire class. The National Education Policy 2020 is making room for Edtech in teaching and learning. It can leverage the power of Edtech in uniting multiple stakeholders to accelerate and smoothen the process of implementation".

Kartik Sharma, co-founder, DcodeAI

Education and skill development will lead us out of the current pandemic. There are numerous disruptions that the education system of the country had to face in 2020, and it has affected the overall learning and development process of the students. The government should make stronger efforts to incorporate AI, ML and Data Science training sessions at the grassroots level and build capacities and acumen for new-age tech domains in educational institutions. Doing so will empower the masses with the required knowledge, innovation and competencies to navigate the AI-driven world of tomorrow.

Rohit Gajbhiye, founder, Financepeer

The stakeholders are eyeing the Budget 2021 with a lot of expectations as the government has already signalled allocation of 6 percent of the GDP towards education. This can be a healthy start towards strengthening the sector. Aligning with it, we expect the government to introduce a framework for formalising online education coupling it with exhaustive provisions for bridging the digital divide between both ends of the education value chain, i.e. the teachers and the students. The government should also reduce gaps in quality of education between rural and urban areas has to be on the priority list and technology is pivotal for that. We are also expecting the government to lay the ground for a gradual increase in the annual budget of education to 10 percent of GDP to create an ecosystem for a vigorous research and development infrastructure in the education sector.

Rohit Manglik, CEO, EduGorilla

The year 2020 witnessed the formulation of the landmark National Education Policy 2020 that proposes futuristic measures to revamp the Indian educational system. The increased allocation for education in the upcoming Union Budget will be a great beginning to realize its benefits. Emphasis should also be on teacher training, skill development and improving learning outcomes to cater to the dynamic industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has also underscored the significance of e-learning in widening the accessibility to education. Rationalising GST in e-learning will make it more affordable for consumers and fuel the democratization of the segment.

Vamsi Krishna, CEO and co-founder, Vedantu

Technology is the main pillar to democratise education and it can create powerful communities. It has played a vital role in enabling the shift, especially in cities and towns with high-speed internet connectivity. However infrastructural issues in the form of internet access as well as smartphone and PC penetration owing to the lack of affordability has proved to be a major roadblock in the adoption of online learning in many parts of India. Digital infrastructure in schools, basic devices for students to access online education through PCs, tablets, and mobile phones as well as seamless internet connectivity, is the need of the hour.

Rishab Mehta, founder and CEO, GrayQuest

While the National Education Policy has set a great opportunity for the Indian education sector to grow and flourish, the COVID-19 induced pandemic has had serious implications both on education and education financing. Therefore, government intervention is the need of the hour to make education more affordable and accessible.  Steps to improve and enhance technological infrastructure is one of our key expectation from the government. This will also be a crucial step in bridging the gap between rural and urban areas thus providing equal opportunities to all. Government must take measures to reduce the interest rates on education loans so that students can pursue the education of their choice without being held down by financial burdens. Another key step in this regard would be to increase the percentage of GDP allocated towards the education sector which will incentivise infrastructure creation and promote quality education. We would like to urge the government to provide tax reliefs by easing the present Angel Tax norms and decreasing the GST rates applicable on us.

Amit Agarwal, founder and CEO, OckyPocky - Interactive English learning app for kids

The edtech industry saw a hike in the participation of parents and kids and the sector has succeeded in engaging them effectively. Digital learning has become the new normal and people will stay glued to digital learning in the future as well. The pandemic disrupted the entire education segment especially in the Tier-2 and Tier 3 cities, hence the government needs to give attention to the smaller towns of the country. The edtech segment expects the government to have a vision around a massive tech-led impact for kids across tier II, III, and IV regions of the country. We expect network penetration at the regional level and for the government to allocate funds for the advancement in technological infrastructure, providing equal opportunities to the deprived sections of society.

Shantanu Rooj, founder and CEO, Schoolguru

The pandemic accelerated digital adoption in the education sector. Additionally the government also introduced the National Education Policy in July 2020 but implementation and execution of many reforms has still not seen light of the day. The government should execute on its intention to permit all Indian universities to deliver online degrees (an announcement made in May 2020). To encourage the involvement of all key stakeholders, the Budget should take up some controlled measures like prepone some of the NEP provisions like degree modularity, credit portability and improvement in governance at educational institutions.  It should introduce incentives (for corporates) for aiding massification of Degree Apprenticeships which is a very effective tool to train and skill students through real life experience and improve their employability, make education loans more affordable by either providing tax rebates or subsidizing the loans further through government interventions – this will help to arrest dropout rates as students will be able to pay their fees and should also evaluate the option of providing universal health insurance to all students through Ayushman Bharat scheme.

Achin Bhattacharyya, CEO and founder, Notebook-after-school digital learning portal: We need to digitally connect all schools in the country and also ensure a smooth glitch-free working of the digital infra post its implementation. Creation of tech hubs, from where quality vernacular content can be disseminated is the need of the hour. Considering the role that ed-tech companies played during the pandemic, it will be a prudent step if they are given the required support and impetus to grow by making capital accessible to them, facilitate various collaborations with leading universities and reduce GST rates on online education.

Sunita Gandhi, founder - Global Classroom Pvt. ltd. and Global Education Training institute: We expect the 2021 Union Budget to be open to creating an ed-tech ecosystem with greater access to the Internet and robust data protection. By allowing innovation in the sector and improving the basic digital infrastructure of the country, the government can ensure that our education system is immune to any pandemic in the future. We believe this year’s Budget will focus more on making education accessible, affordable, and scalable.

Sumeet Mehta, Co-founder & CEO, LEAD School- Edtech companies in the K-12 segment: In view of the disruptions in the learning process, it is important that some corrective methods through fiscal measures be undertaken in the upcoming general Budget such as Teacher relief fund for APS. The government should consider
a budgetary allocation to set up a relief fund to provide easy credit or teacher salary fund for affordable private schools; pilot fund for PPP for government schools: a public-private partnership to improve learning outcomes in government schools; budgetary allocation to overhaul school-based assessment, learning gaps fund to help affordable private schools to address these gaps in learning by making provisions for refresher courses or bridge programmes between two classes will definitely benefit students in covering up the lost year; monetary support for data connection in schools. The government must provide at least one data connection in every affordable private school and government school so that they are connected to the digital knowledge ecosystem.

Shishir Kumar, Director General, ImaginXP, focused on partnership with universities to provide future skill degrees: Last year’s Budget had allocated Rs 38,317 crore, 40 percent of the total Budget towards higher education. With one in 5 students unskilled for the modern workplace and about 60 percent unemployability among higher education graduates in India, I request the finance minister to increase the higher education Budget by about at least 25 percent. Last year only Rs 125 crore was allocated to teacher training and adult training. We have to invest in the right future skill force, as only then can we achieve the prime minister’s $5 trillion dream.

Aakash Chaudhry, Managing Director, Aakash Educational Services: We are expecting the government to increase education expenditure in the current education Budget. With more focus on the implementation of the new policy, quality and tax-free education and skill development, the reforms will pave ways for more blue-collar jobs. Classroom education has undergone a complete change due to the pandemic. We expect the government to put more focus on the usage of digital education in Tier 2,3 cities and envisage avenues to make India as one of the preferred higher education destinations in the world.

Mihir Gupta, Co-Founder and CEO, Teachmint, ed-tech firm: A lot of learning today is happening outside schools and colleges. While the government has always been considerate in keeping the core services of schools, colleges and universities out of the scope of GST, outside-school education is still being largely taxed at 18 percent GST slab. It is important to note that the scope of such supplementary education is very wide such as hobby classes, sports training, spoken English, coaching for school subjects, college entrances or government examinations etc. Currently, the applicable GST ends up getting passed on to the students and parents, adding to affordability issues. A reconsideration of GST slab on supplementary education can give a significant boost to attempts being made by the industry in democratising access to quality education.

Ali Sait, CEO, Tech Avant-Garde, edtech firm: The Union Budget outlay for Digital Transformation in Education should be $1 billion for the year 2021-22. For immediate ‘Digital Transformation’, a school might require an investment of Rs 10 lakh, students Rs 15,000 each and every teacher Rs 50,000. Keeping in letter and spirit of the New Education Policy, the government should look at funding various stakeholders of education to Go Digital. The schools should get funds to upgrade their digital infrastructure.

Students should get direct benefit vouchers to acquire technology. The teachers’ should get a scholarship or interest-free loans to enhance their digital teaching skills and to acquire devices and software.

Shashank Udupa, Co-founder and CFO, Avalon Meta-digital university for new-age skills: Budget 2021 is going to be quite exciting to watch this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the GoI has spent a lot of money in reviving the economy by providing different reliefs over time, which it must somehow recover. At the same time, the common man also expects some relief from the Budget such as tax cuts, increase in deduction limits from 80C, decreased interest rates on loans or a continued moratorium on existing loan payments.

Manoj K Arora, Vice-Chancellor, BML Munjal University: The government expenditure on education is meagre. The current public expenditure on education in India has been around 4.4 percent of GDP. This needs to be significantly increased to 6-7 percent of GDP with combined contribution of the Centre and State governments. Similarly, if we want to give due importance to research, the research and innovation investment, which currently stands at about 0.7 percent of GDP as compared to 4.3 percent of GDP in a small country like Israel, needs also to be enhanced to at least 2 percent of GDP. During the pandemic, we have seen the importance of indigenous research in different sectors, be it agriculture, healthcare, IT and manufacturing. This will indeed give a boost to the proposal on creation of the National Science Foundation, as envisaged in the National Education Policy. The NSF will act as a robust and efficient support system to facilitate research in higher education institutions, and is being eagerly awaited.

Beas Dev Ralhan, CEO & Co-Founder, NextEducation India, K-12 education solutions provider: The education sector is looking forward to a Budget that meets the modern-day needs of virtual learning in terms of infrastructure and financial support. The shift to virtual learning requires sufficient funds that will empower the education system. Promoting the inclusion of Artificial Intelligence and other emerging technologies into teaching-learning practices will change the face of education for the better. Along with this, a financial boost to the educational institutions will go a long way in building a bright future for students.

Prajodh Rajan, Co-Founder & Group CEO, EuroKids International: The much-awaited Union Budget should direct its resources on implementation of NEP, building teacher capacities and augmenting health and hygiene at school levels. While the education segment faced many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we look forward to the Budget targeted to provide relief and support for this very important segment that plays a pivotal role in nation-building.

Prateek Shukla, Co-Founder and CEO, Masai School-a military-style coding boot camp: The year 2020 laid a great foundation for online learning and we just expect the momentum to grow in 2021. Keeping in mind this pulse of the nation along with a larger agenda of skilling and making the Indian workforce job-ready, the government should consider implementing steps that will encourage investor interest to boost the growth of the sector. We would like to urge the government to reduce the GST on online education services in the 2021 Budget. We also expect full support from the government in terms of fund allocation to further rise in 2021.

Preethaa Ganesh, Vice President, Vels Group of Institutions: The Union Budget for 2021-2022 is much-awaited one as this would be the first Budget after the introduction of New Education Policy. We are expecting the government to increase fund allocation for education and that it goes up for higher education specifically, in order to cater to India's ever-growing need for quality human capital. The Budget should also have an increased focus on the accessibility and usage of digital education in Tier 2, 3 cities. Considering that private universities and colleges cater to a large number of students in the country, the government should focus on how private institutions can be supported in building world-class institutions that can make India one of the preferred higher education destinations in the world.

Sameer Nigam, CEO & Co-founder, Stratbeans-a company that drives digital transformation through AI-based online learning: The Union Budget for FY 2021-22 is one of the most anticipated socio-economic events for this year. As the government and many other agencies have projected slower economic growth via the last financial year, there will be more emphasis on ‘ease of doing businesses’. Needless to say, the general public and businesses are really hopeful for some major relief in Budget announcements.

Sujatha Kumaraswamy, CEO, MeritTrac Services: It is imperative that the Union Budget considers the challenges faced by the education sector since March 2020. There is now a need to strengthen and elaborate the New Education Policy for implementation at the grassroots level and provide the necessary budgetary allocation to support in terms of quality education as well as infrastructure. The new school assessment scheme that is planned for 2022-2023 needs to be detailed out soon so that educational institutes can plan the necessary implementations. We also hope to see more clarity in the National Professional Standards for Teachers with an extensive focus on teacher training. Besides, more details are awaited on the proposed IN-SAT exams to be held in African and Asian countries for foreign student benchmarking.

Gaurav Vohra, Co-founder & CEO, Jigsaw Academy-data science institute: There is a dire need to incorporate cutting-edge technologies, such as Cloud and AI-based learning tools, to enhance the efficiency of online education. In the Union Budget 2021, the government should consider reducing the current tax of 18 percent on the EdTech sector to enable access to quality education for learners all over the country. The government should also try and implement a 100 percent FDI policy that will allow EdTech companies to acquire more funding to invest in R&D, allowing them to provide enhanced education facilities powered by best-in-class technologies to learners.

Anshuman Das, CEO, and Co-founder, CareerNet, talent acquisition organisation: The government should bridge the gap between academic curriculum and industry demands. It should endorse women's welfare by incentivising women employment. Consider providing tax breaks to companies that employ a higher percentage of
women in their workforce. This will strengthen the employment opportunities for women while companies can utilise the tax sops to fund women-centric initiatives. The government should stimulate the development of new-age skills. Offering government-endorsed, standardised skill development programs and providing professional certification to students and accreditation to training institutes will bring credibility and inspire more students to enroll for them.

Sanjay Padode, president, Vijaybhoomi University: The government can give a huge push towards infrastructure spend by putting money in the hands of the masses. Permitting foreign players in sectors such as defence, education, multi-brand retail and real estate may bring in more protests but eventually will lead to foreign investments and shall boost the economy. For NEP 2020 to flourish, the government must consider introducing financial instruments that will help the higher education sector to raise funding to develop diverse faculty that can offer interdisciplinary curriculums. Also, relax the norms on REITs to help private education institutions unlock capital from their rich real estate holdings.

Surabhi Goel, CEO, Aditya Birla World Academy, Aditya Birla Education Academy, The Aditya Birla Integrated School (Education): There is an increased need for investing in virtual forms of education and training through digital tools, upskilling and digital training for teachers through interactive mentoring sessions, leadership training and more. We hope the government increases the funds allocated to the education sector especially when it comes to resources such as the internet as this will open up countless new opportunities for the sector to grow and thrive. The government will also need to look at easing education loan norms.

Abhishek Kumar Rohit, Associate Professor & Co-Chair – PGDM-BKFS, TAPMI: I expect active measures in terms of changes in tax brackets to boost the disposable personal income of the middle class. Secondly, sectors which are seeing a rise in input costs because of supply chain disruptions and rising commodity costs globally, such as construction, should be supported by GST adjustments and import duty cuts, respectively. I would expect steps for cost reduction in the construction sector by reducing GST on construction materials for the affordable housing sector. I expect incentivizing investments and modernization of SMEs to make them capital intensive and competent globally. For longer-term goals, I would also like to see plans for making India self-reliant in the energy sector and supporting infrastructure of the K-12 segment by especially focusing on semi-urban and rural areas where education has taken a major hit.

Preeta George, Associate Dean, Executive Education, Bhavan’s SPJIMR: The pandemic has not only led to demand-side shocks but supply-side shocks as well. Besides demand boosting measures such as direct spending through government schemes, there is an imminent need to tackle the supply side factors especially with respect to skill development. Budget 2021-22 is the right time to give National Education Policy an impetus as the economy is recovering from demand-side shocks and dealing with the skill-related supply-side bottlenecks can give the economy an additional momentum. The Budget of 2021-22 will need an additional allocation to provide for the required funds in order to implement the NEP successfully.

Mahadeo Jaiswal, Director, IIM Sambalpur: The pandemic has once again underscored the digital divide that exists in this country. A lot of schools especially run by the government in rural belts, small towns got badly impacted due to the yawning digital divide. Therefore, the first and foremost issue that needs to be addressed in this upcoming Budget is allocation of funds to develop digital infrastructure across the country, especially rural India, to bridge the gap between rural and urban and there is no inequality. The government must evaluate the situation on the ground and spend on assets for long-term that includes smart classroom, Internet connection and upskilling of teachers in line with NEP 2020. If we want to give due importance to research, the research and innovation investment, which currently stands at about 0.8 percent of GDP needs to be enhanced to at least 2 percent of GDP.

Mona Lisa Bal, Chairperson, KiiT International School: The Budget must prepare a financial scheme for the implementation of NEP and ensure adequate resources for expanding and strengthening the education system. Allocating 6 percent of the GDP towards education would lead to a healthy start in the further progress to build a strong foundation. Opening FDI into education would be a good option as well.

Abhimanyu Saxena, Co-founder, Scaler and InterviewBit: In the upcoming Budget, we expect that the government to lower the GST levied on the ed-tech industry. It is currently at 18 percent; but if it were to go down by even 1 or 2 percent, it would have a significant impact-making online education that much more accessible and affordable. Another thing that could be implemented is allowing working professionals some tax benefits redeemed against the fees paid for online upskilling courses and programs. A similar policy can be introduced for loans being taken for online courses as well. Recognition from apex bodies like UGC, AICTE, and NSDC will also help alleviate digital education and upskilling programs' status and awareness.

Srinivas Chunduru, Founder - Vans Group (Investing |Skilling| Advisory): The Budget must increase the spend on education and edu-tech firms. There are two critical areas that hopefully would get addressed in this budget: one is an increasing the budget for the education sector from current 4-4.5 percent of GDP to higher along with a focus on more allocation for encouraging edu-techs. There is a need to facilitate easy financing options for infrastructure, mobiles, fees and other elements of EdTech’s ecosystem in order to improve the accessibility of education to communities at large. In order to encourage the investment sentiment from the entrepreneurs of this sector, the current taxation of 18 percent can be re-looked into so as to make digital education more affordable across the country.

Amit Gainda, CEO, Avanse Financial Services: The Union Budget 2021-22 should focus on education institutions and provide them ‘infrastructure status’. Besides, the government should provide refinance option for retail education loans, focus on skill development sector to make Indian youth job-ready. The government should relook at the income tax structure to help salaried employees have the necessary liquidity to tackle the negative impact of the pandemic.

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