The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Arjun tests waters for foreign funds

New Delhi, June 27: Human resource development minister Arjun Singh is considering a policy that would encourage both foreign and private investment in primary education. The Left parties, however, are opposed to the move.

In an interview to the BBC, Singh has said: “At present, we do not have such a policy. But it can be evolved.”

He is confident that the Left — key backers of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance — will be “practical” and not oppose the policy.

But at least one section of the Left has said it will not allow foreign institutions to run schools in the country. “We cannot allow foreigners to run schools in our country. There is a lot of ambiguity in what the HRD minister is saying,” said senior CPI leader D. Raja.

Singh has spoken about a system of checks and balances so that foreign institutions do not have any “undue” influence on the education system.

The Left wants Singh to concentrate on raising resources to increase allocation for primary education. “This should be his first priority. All this talk about foreign direct investment in elementary education is a diversion,” Raja said.

“As far as private investment in primary education is concerned, we know it is already there. Private institutions are already running schools,” he added.

Singh’s predecessor Murli Manohar Joshi, though a staunch adversary of the Left, was closer to them on this issue. The BJP minister was opposed to foreign investment in both primary and secondary education.

Initially, he was even against loans from foreign institutions like the World Bank for the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, a programme for universalisation of elementary education.

Like the Left, Singh is equally concerned about increasing financial allocation for primary education. His government’s common minimum programme is committed to spending 6 per cent of the GDP on education. At present, it is a little over 3 per cent.

“Apart from an education cess that we have proposed, we are also going to raise our plan allocation. We have to increase allocation for primary education,” Singh said in the interview.

Though working in tandem with the Left, Singh is firm on not doing anything that could be a breach of administrative norms. For instance, a section of the Left may want Singh to undo Joshi’s agenda without going through the correct administrative procedures. The minister says he will not do anything in a hurry. “We will do everything within the administrative framework,” said Singh.

On the controversial NCERT history textbooks, Singh is not ready to revert to the old textbooks authored by Left-liberal historians. “It is wiser to allow a group of knowledgeable people to make recommendations,” he said.

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