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Funds fillip for varsity dream

New Delhi, Feb. 16: The interim budget has armed the government with a funds booster to fuel the Prime Minister’s vision for an unprecedented expansion in higher education institutions, as it races to meet promises ahead of the general election.

The allocation for the department of higher education has gone up by 21 per cent in a budget that has earmarked almost identical amounts as last year to most other social sectors.

Compared to the Rs 10,852 crore allocated to higher education last year, stand-in finance minister Pranab Mukherjee today handed Rs 13,179 crore to the department.

The extra funds are specifically aimed at kickstarting as many of the promised new institutions as possible before the Lok Sabha election that is expected in April, top government officials confirmed.

The UGC, in charge of universities in India, has been allocated Rs 6,545.11 crore in the interim budget, as opposed to Rs 5,104.90 crore last year — a 28 per cent raise.

Funds for the UGC are aimed at helping start 12 new central universities and upgrading another three state universities to central status.

The allocations for new IITs have been raised from Rs 50 crore last year to Rs 200 crore this year. Eight new IITs were promised under the 11th five-year plan, of which six were started last year and the remaining two will start offering classes this year.

Last year’s budget allocated Rs 8 crore for starting new IIMs promised in the 11th plan. The allocation this year is Rs 20 crore. An IIM in Shillong was started last year and six more have been promised.

The budget has allocated Rs 20 crore for starting new National Institutes of Technology (NIT) as opposed to Rs 1 crore last year. Nine new NITs have been promised in the 11th plan.

“The extra funds are not so much for existing institutions but for the new institutions we hope to start soon as a part of the PM’s vision,” a senior human resource development (HRD) ministry official involved in the budgeting process said.

The funds hike for higher education stands out amid the allocations for most other social sector wings.

The department of school education — also under the HRD ministry — has received a 3 per cent increase in allocated funds from Rs 27,850 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 28,799.21 crore now.

The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shisksha Abhiyan aimed at universalising secondary education, is a key recipient of the extra funds. The scheme, recently cleared by the cabinet, has been allocated Rs 1,143.46 crore.

Allocation for the ministry of women and child development is almost the same as last year — Rs 7,278 crore now, compared to Rs 7,262 crore in 2008-09.

The ministry of social justice and empowerment has got Rs 2,485 crore, again only marginally higher than the Rs 2,459 crore last year.

Budgetary statistics for the ministry of rural development suggest a big hike from last year’s budget but actually mirror the ministry’s expenditure last year.

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