'Pushing More Money into Education Will Achieve Nothing': Finance Secretary

Even for higher education, according to the finance secretary, pushing more funding will only be "a sop to the conscience of the intelligentsia that we are doing something for it".

New Delhi: In an interview to The Hindu where he defended the Union government’s decisions in this year’s budget, finance secretary T.V. Somanathan seemed to suggest that the quality of education in India will not improve even if the government puts more money into the sector.

India has more than enough school teachers, Somanathan argued. “It’s not quantity in education. It is quality, whether the teacher attends the school. Does he teach well? Does he make the child do homework? Does he not just pass the child whether the child has learned or not? These are not money. So actually pushing more money into education will achieve nothing.”

Even for higher education, according to the finance secretary, pushing more funding will only be “a sop to the conscience of the intelligentsia that we are doing something for it”. What is really required, he said, was to “depoliticise the university”.

While the government’s outlay for health has increased this year, in the last two financial years, the government actually spent less on education than it had originally planned.

Chart: The Sharp Decline in Total Expenditure on Social Security Schemes

On health, Somanathan claimed that the government is putting money in the “right places”, and the funding may seem low but that was fine as these schemes are “frugal”. “In Health, we have to put money in the right places. I think the National Health Mission is doing pretty well and are pretty frugal. That frugality is good as money is scarce. Throwing money at private insurance is not a good idea. We are setting up 150 nursing colleges that will expand supply of nursing for both domestic and international markets and create jobs. So in health, also there’s not much to be concerned. Yes, if we had more money, of course… ,” he told The Hindu.

The planned expenditure on health has gone up for the upcoming year, to Rs 88,956 crore. What is worth noting, however, is that the revised estimates for the last year (Rs 77,351 crore) is substantially lower than what was planned (Rs 86, 606 crore).

While agreeing that India’s export outlook didn’t look great for the coming year because of the global economic situation, Somanathan said that in fact this was a good thing, since India has a weakness when it comes to exports anyway. “Exports, with the global situation, no… But again, the positive side for us is our weakness as an export powerhouse is our strength when exports are declining. Because we are not so intensive in exports, unlike East Asia or somewhere else. United States’ recession hits East Asia pretty hard, much harder,” he said.

The finance secretary also said that he believes the “current account situation will be manageable through an easing of import costs on petroleum particularly, and easing on gold, silver, platinum through customs duty action, which has happened, and possibly some reasonably favourable capital account inflows”.

The remarks by Somanathan on education drew criticism from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student body affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

“The comment of the Union finance secretary is not only contrary to the collective understanding on the subjects of education from the extensive discussions held at the time of National Education Policy 2020, but it also ignores the concern expressed by Prime Minister Modi from time to time regarding the subject of education,” a press statement issued by ABVP said.

The student body said his remarks “shows his lack of adequate understanding on the subject of education and his statement is highly irresponsible”.