Higher education: Govt responses in Parliament show consistent under-utilisation of budgeted funds

The government’s responses to a string of questions in Parliament about higher education have revealed that annually, a large proportion of Budget funds meant for the sector go unutilised.

The year 2021-22 is not likely to be an exception as out of Rs 93,224 crore earmarked for education in last year’s Budget, only approximately Rs 56,567 crore have been utilised so far, according to a response by the Ministry of Education to a question by BJD Rajya Sabha MP Sasmit Patra.

In a response to a separate question, the government said that in 2021-22 the unspent balance (as on January 11) of central universities and centrally funded higher education institutes stood at Rs 7,143 crore. It was Rs 274 crore in 2020-21 and Rs 355 crore in 2019-20.

Also, 6,535 of 19,349 sanctioned faculty posts in 46 central universities remain vacant. Delhi University has the most number of vacancies with 859, followed by 611 in University of Allahabad, 499 in Banaras Hindu University and 359 in Aligarh Muslim University.

A detailed break-up of Budget allocations and expenditure related to the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), IMPRESS (funding to promote social science research), and IMPRINT (funding for research in premier institutions), as well was University Grants Commission (UGC) grants for research, show consistent under-utilisation of funds.

In a written response to Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP Jawhar Sircar, the Ministry of Education said that in 2020-21, only Rs 165 crore out of Rs 300 crore allotted for RUSA could be spent. In 2019-20, Rs 2,100 crore was allotted and Rs 1,277 crore used. In 2021-22, Rs 3,000 crore was allotted. The figure has now been revised to Rs 793.26 crore. RUSA is a centrally sponsored scheme aimed at providing funding to state higher and technical institutions.

The response further showed that in 2020-21, only Rs 12 crore of Rs 25 crore allotted was spent under IMPRESS. Only Rs 18.75 crore of Rs 75 crore allotted was spent in 2019-20, and only Rs 3.75 crore of Rs 25 crore was spent in 2019-19.

In the case of IMPRINT, the utilisation percentage is higher. Rs 53 crore was set aside for the scheme in 2019-20, of which Rs 47.2 crore was utilised; in 2018-19, Rs 46.30 crore of Rs 50 crore allotted was utilised; and in 2017-18, Rs 75.71 crore of Rs 85 crore was used.

The grants released by the UGC under minor and major research projects (science and humanities) have also been falling, the government response showed. It came down from Rs 42.70 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 38.60 crore in 2017-18, Rs 13.26 crore in 2018-19, Rs 5.75 crore in 2019-20 and Rs 38 lakh in 2020-21.

Responding to another question on whether the UGC has stopped fellowships such as the Dr S Radhakrishnan Post Doctoral Fellowship in Humanities and Social Sciences and the Post Doctoral Fellowship to women candidates and SC/ST candidates, the government said that after the 12th Five Year Plan period ended, the UGC had decided to revise and rationalise the guidelines.

“The revised guidelines prepared by the Committee have been approved by the Commission and UGC is in the final stage of inviting applications as per the revised guidelines,” it said.

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