If the Union government plans to help public universities implement the new 10% reservation for the upper caste poor with funds and teachers, it is not immediately evident from the budget.

The total outlay for higher education has been raised from Rs 35,010.29 crore in 2018-’19 (later revised down to Rs 33,512.11 crore) to Rs 37,461.01 crore. It is an increase of Rs 2,450.72 crore, or 6.9%.

The “vote on account” document adds that an “additional provision of Rs 4,276.00 crore (voted) in revenue section and Rs 300.00 crore (voted) in the capital section has been provided to meet the expenditure towards implementation of 10% EWS reservation in higher education institutions and for providing equity support to Hefa [the Higher Education Finance Agency that offers infrastructure loans]”.

It is not clear how the Rs 4,276 crore will be split between the EWS reservation and the equity support to the higher education finance agency.

The Economic Times also reported that while the ministry had sought Rs 4,200 crore, it has received about Rs 2,100 crore to implement the quota.

Teachers were hoping for more.

In December, the Narendra Modi government amended the Constitution to grant 10% reservation to those among the upper castes who have a family income of under Rs 8 lakh a year. The quota will apply only to public colleges and universities for now, given the hurdles the government is facing in extending it to private institutions.

The quota is set to be implemented from the coming academic session, which starts at most universities in July. To ensure this does not reduce the number of seats for other reserved categories and the unreserved category, the total number of seats have to be increased by 25%.

In his budget speech, interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal said this roughly translates into two lakh seats.

Teachers have already pointed out that to accommodate more students comfortably, public universities will need more infrastructure – classrooms, laboratories, libraries – and teachers. But the proposed budgetary allocations will not suffice.

Allocation for higher education

In the interim budget, the government has budgeted Rs 6,604.46 crore for central universities, a small increase of Rs 105.91 crore over the revised estimate for 2018-’19. India’s higher education regulator and funding agency, the University Grants Commission, has been allocated Rs 4,600 crore, a small reduction from the current financial year’s revised estimate of Rs 4,687.23.

To put the sums into perspective, Punjab University, which is funded jointly by the Centre and state, alone needs an estimated Rs 500 crore to manage the 25% increase in seats.

“This is bad news for us,” said Abha Dev Habib, teacher and former executive council member of the Delhi University. “If the government wants us to implement this quota in July, there has to be some disbursal [of funds] this year. Infrastructure can still wait but teacher intake has to increase. This amount will have to cover the increase in salaries [as per the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission] as well.”

On January 23, the human resource development ministry asked universities to state their requirements, including funds and the number of extra teaching posts. Instead, Habib said, the government should have set up a committee to recommend ways to calculate the cost for implementing the new quota as was done in 2006 for the 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes.

For technical education, which is even more resource-intensive, the increase in allocations is similarly paltry. The Indian Institutes of Technology will receive Rs 6,143.02 crore in 2019-’20. While this is over Rs 1,000 crore more than the revised allocation for 2018-’19, it is still significantly less than what the government actually spent in 2017-’18 – nearly Rs 7,703 crore. Plus, over Rs 500 crore of this increase will go towards clearing their infrastructure loans.

The government has been pushing public institutions to take loans for infrastructure development and the cuts in their budgets have come with a corresponding increase in the allocation to the Higher Education Finance Agency, set up by the human resource development ministry to lend funds. This year, the agency was allocated Rs 2,750 crore as capital expenditure, for the next year, it will get Rs 2,100 crore. The government has budgeted for the interest to be paid on the loans – the borrowing institutions must repay the principal amount – but under separate heads.

Some institutions, though, have seen a dramatic increase in their allocations. Public “world class institutions” – now called “institutions of eminence” – have been given Rs 400 crore, up from this year’s Rs 250 crore (revised to Rs 128.9 crore). And the total outlay for research schemes has gone up from Rs 350.23 crore this year (revised to Rs 243.6 crore) to Rs 608.87 crore.

Allocation for school education

Not just the allocations for higher education, activists and experts are disappointed with the budget for school education as well.

In 2018, India’s biggest scheme for school education, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for elementary school, was merged with the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan for secondary school and a scheme for strengthening teacher training institutions. The resultant scheme, Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, has been allocated Rs 36,322 crore in this budget, up from the total outlay of Rs 30,891.81 crore for the three schemes in 2018-’19. The elementary school scheme claimed the bulk of the funds allocated to lower education every year. In 2018-’19, it received over Rs 26,000 crore.

It is not clear how much of the budgetary allocation announced by Goyal will go to elementary education, complained Ambarish Rai of the Right to Education Forum, a group of activists, non-profit organisations and academics working on education.

He noted that even if the funds are moved to higher classes, they will fall far short of what is required to universalise secondary education – a campaign promise the Modi government is reportedly working on.

In effect, Rai said, this budget continues the trend of underfunding school education.

Follow our complete coverage of Budget 2019.

Corrections and clarifications: This article has been updated to reflect the additional provisions made in the Vote to Account document.