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  • Shail Kumar

Budget 2017: Another lost opportunity for India’s youth and higher education.

In Budget 2017, preserving the status quo in higher education system received over 99% of the funds and ideas with a potential of changing the system less than 1%. Thus, it should be a stark reminder to 1.3 billion people that addressing the crisis in India’s higher education system is just getting lip service from the political leaders and bureaucrats.

When Narendra Modi was elected the Prime Minister of India in May 2014 there was widespread euphoria. Finally, it was felt by many in India and around the world, that the nation would be led by an “outsider” with the courage and confidence to make bold decisions. In his overseas trips, he received treatment usually reserved for rockstars. I attended one such event at the SAP Center in Silicon Valley and walked away feeling that Modi is a gifted and talented speaker and if he translates even half of his words into actions then we can finally see positive changes, quickly.

Almost three years later, alas, Modi government actions on higher education have fallen far short of the speeches. Just take the recently announced Budget 2017. I got excited to read the agenda and the opening statements:

Agenda for 2017-18 is: “Transform, Energise and Clean India” – TEC India,

“Energise various sections of society, especially the youth and the vulnerable, and enable them to unleash their true potential.”

Then I read the budget in details. Like in Budget 2016, the talking points makes one believe that the problems are finally being recognized and action is being planned. However, there is just Rs. 275 crores ($41 million) allocated for big ideas that can transform India’s higher education system. On the other hand, more than Rs. 33,055 crores ($5 billion) is being spent on continuing or expanding the current higher education system that by all measures is in crisis.

In higher education, over 99.2% of Budget 2017 promotes the same old British Raj philosophy of “divide and conquer”, which our politicians seem to have perfected over the past 70 years. Skill building are divorced from higher education, education from research, post graduates from undergraduates, and medicine and science from engineering. Many ministries continue to run their narrowly focused higher education institutions artificially separating fields and disciplines along ministerial territories.

Finally, the budget allocations to addressing the most vexing problems and time-sensitive opportunities are a mere pittance. Take world-class multidisciplinary research universities and MOOCs for instance. Together they have received a partly sum of Rs. 275 crores ($41 million) or 0.8% devoted to higher education in the Ministry of Human Resources Development!

Education is the key and higher education, which includes vocational training, is the master key to meeting the needs and aspirations of India’s youth and regain its lost glory. India has to also catalyze its research, innovation, and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Thus, India needs 40-100 world-class multidisciplinary research universities. Currently, it has none. World-class institutions, which was indeed a signature talking point in Budget 2016, gets a partly Rs. 50 crores ($7 million). Though, as I write there is news that each of public institutions that get the “world-class” institution label from the UGC may receive Rs. 1000 crores ($150 million) each. Curiously, this proposed expenditure is not reflected in the GOI’s MHRD budget section, Demand No. 58, or in the Outlay on Major Schemes.

Over the next 35-50 years, India has to educate 700 million to 1.3 billion young men and women, and prepare them for their lives and careers. This is India's defining challenge and opportunity of the 21st century. However, it is severely constrained by lack of world-class faculty, infrastructure, resources, and time. Thus, MOOCs are the much-needed silver bullet for India. With relatively modest resources it can provide excellent education to all in the very near future. SWAYAM, which was touted in the main talking points in this year’s budget speech, received a mere Rs. 75 crores ($11 million), and National Mission in Education Through ICT another Rs. 150 crores ($22 million).

With a mere lip service to world-class multidisciplinary research universities and MOOCs and all of the budget directed towards continuation of dysfunctional British Raj mindset on higher education, Budget 2017 is yet another lost opportunity for India’s youth and the future of the nation. It is time for PM Modi and his government to translate words into actions. Now.

About the Author: Shail Kumar is the Founder and President of Nalanda 2.0 ( and Author of Building Golden India: How to unleash India's vast potential and transform its higher education system. Now.


Research by: Shailabh Kumar and Shail Kumar

Reviewed by: Shailabh Kumar, Subhamoy Das, Deepan Raj Prabakar Muthirayan, Sreeja Nag and Akash Keshav Singh (Nalanda 2.0's founding team members)

Data Sources:

1. Budget 2017-2018, Speech of Arun Jaitley, Minister of Finance, February 1, 2017

2. Key Features of Budget 2017-2018:

3. Budget Profile:

4. Expenditure of Government of India:

5. Outlay on Major Schemes:

6. Statement 1, Consolidated Fund of India, Revenue Account, Disbursements:

7. Expenditure Profile 2017-2018, Statement 3A:

8. Ministry of Human Resources Development, Demand No. 58, Department of Higher Education:

9. Ministry of Human Resources Development, Demand No. 57, Department of School Education & Literacy:


11. Outlay on Major Schemes:

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