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An Inclusive Approach

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Far from the expectation of wide-ranging reforms in the education sector, including freeing up education fees and allowing foreign investments in the industry, the Planning Commission's proposal for the 12th Five Year Plan being presented to the government by January, has different ideas it seems. A widespread financial aid programme leading to larger education subsidies and focus on social inclusion are the orders of the day instead.

About 18 per cent of all government education spending or about 1.12 per cent of the GDP is spent on higher education today. This has been proposed to be raised to 25 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively. An increase of 0.38 per cent in the GDP's expenditure for education amounts to an additional allocation of about Rs 25, 000 crore towards higher education for the centre and the states taken together.

The Planning Commission is also likely to propose setting up student aid agencies for a structured approach towards offering aid to students. A funding mechanism will not just reduce multiple layers in the delivery of aids but also cut down the excessive burden on the government, a senior official of the Planning Commission said. This funding mechanism could either be conducted by lending banks that would provide student loans at reasonable and affordable rates or an agency which might be set up with a certain corpus to provide financial aid. This funding mechanism could either be by lending banks to provide student loans at reasonable and affordable rates or an agency might be set up with a certain corpus to provide financial aid.

There will also be focus on having unified delivery mechanisms such as a web based system to provide these aids through a single portal where in a student can fetch all the information from one source."In the 12th plan the student loan arrangement will receive a major flip as there is consensus among all departments over this issue," said a planning commission official.

The approach to 12th Five Year Plan, which was approved in October by the National Development Council chaired by the Prime Minister, has also proposed to enhance the scale and reach of scholarship schemes and student loans. It also states that government guarantees for student loans could be considered.

The financial aid programmes, fellowships and scholarships will be majorly focused on the poor and underprivileged members of society. Currently the Planning Commission is not considering any scholarships on merit basis.

"I would not like to see a lot of money being put there (scholarships for meritorious students). I don't think a significant amount needs to be put for those students since they usually have the means to afford higher education," a senior official said. The plan would also consider setting up a system of funding poor people for skill development through direct financial aid or loans.

The Planning Commission has also proposed that there should be more focus on the quality of higher education rather than just larger enrolment, in its approach paper."Increasing gross enrolment ratio (GER) without a proper strategy in place is huge devaluation of higher education," says a senior official, who strongly believes that the entire concept around GER is misplaced and that a very high rate of GER creates aspirations which are very difficult to be fulfilled.

Hence, the Planning Commission, this time will look at focusing on quality of higher education rather than just talking about higher GER numbers. Countries such as Singapore which are considered knowledge economies currently have only 23 per cent GER.

During the Twelfth-Plan period, an additional enrolment of 10 million students could be targeted in higher education equivalent to 3 million additional seats for each age cohort entering the higher education system. This would significantly increase the GER bringing it broadly in line with the global average.

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