For India to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and to accomplish its vision of becoming a self-reliant $5 trillion economy, one of the fundamental requirements will be to focus and invest in education. In the recent past, the government has made significant strides in this sector, a monumental development being the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 reforms that is currently under way.

Therefore, the upcoming Union Budget 2021 will be key for two reasons. First, it is likely to provide an in-depth view of the implementation of NEP 2020. And, second, this is the first Budget post-pandemic, and hence will be key with regard to how it will get the education sector back on track from the pandemic impact.

Focus areas

Budget 2021 must emphasise on the following segments.

First, the focus on skill development must be deepened, right from the corporate sector to the low-income group youth, ensuring Indians are equipped with the necessary skills to support and accelerate the economy. According to a survey report by FICCI, at least 9 per cent Indians will be in jobs that does not exist currently and 37 per cent of workforce will require radically changed skillsets to meet their employment demands.

Another report, by McKinsey, highlights the fact that as many as 87 per cent of surveyed executives said that their organisations were either experiencing skill gaps or expecting them to happen within the next few years. The pandemic has emphasised the need to fill this gap and has put the spotlight on the need to re-skill and up-skill citizens across levels and sectors. Hence, there is a need to grant appropriate stimulus to skill development and ensure inclusive growth opportunities for all, as well as create a workforce that is ready to meet the global demands too.

Second, education infrastructure is another important segment which the Budget should focus on. The pandemic forced over 1.5 million schools across India to close overnight, showing the necessity for digital education. Although in the post-pandemic ecosystem, digital education has been embraced, India still needs to build capabilities to support blended learning completely.

According to a UNICEF report, only 24 per cent of Indian households have internet to access e-education. Therefore, education infrastructure lending is a necessity to aid the development of K-12 schools across the country. As India shifts towards blended learning and the usage of technology becomes paramount, the government must consider granting ‘infrastructure status’ to education institutions to make quality education affordable and accessible for deserving Indian students.

Focus from the government and easy availability of capital will induce an environment of innovation in the field of education, which can help bridge the demand and supply challenges in this sector.

Finally, the Budget should implement reforms such as refinancing of retail education loans for lower ticket size. Such financing scheme, similar to one available to HFCs (housing finance companies), can provide a boost to the education loan segment and contribute to liquidity management for NBFCs. This in turn would provide necessary momentum for NBFCs to create a stronger customer proposition and contribute to building the economy at large.

The education sector is undoubtedly on the cusp of an exciting phase with policy push and technological advancements. We are positive about the growing inclination towards equitable and quality education. We hope that the new directions will help bridge the existing educational gaps and secure a sustainable long-term growth structure that will further boost the economy.

The writer is CEO, Avanse Financial Services