The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday decided to give a big push to efforts to ensure that Scheduled Caste (SC) students receive ample opportunity to pursue higher education by increasing the budget of a key scholarship scheme fivefold.
The Centre also decided that the scheme would be made simpler and funds would be put directly into students’ bank accounts.
Union minister for social justice and empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot said the Centre’s share of the cost of the scheme vis-a-vis that of the states had also been increased. The Centre will pay 60% of the scholarship amount while the states would bear 40% of the cost, he said at a press conference.
According to a person aware of the developments, the Centre’s contribution at present is around 11% under a committed liability scheme.
The CCEA has approved major and transformatory changes in the centrally sponsored Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for students belonging to Scheduled Castes to benefit at least 40 million SC students in the next five years so that they can successfully complete their higher education, an official statement said.
“Today’s Cabinet decision on post-matric scholarship will ensure greater educational access to youngsters belonging to SC communities. Ensuring top quality and affordable education to our youth is an important focus area for our Government,” PM Modi tweeted.
The Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for Scheduled Castes allows students to pursue any post-matric course starting from Class 11 and onwards.
The cabinet has approved a total investment of Rs 59,048 crore, of which the Centre would contribute Rs 35, 534 crore, or 60%, with the states providing the rest. The central assistance was around Rs 1,100 crore annually during 2017-18 to 2019-20.
The central government is committed to giving a big push to this effort so that the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education of SC students would reach the national standard within five years, the statement said. The GER ratio for SC students is around 20% while the national average is 27%.
The focus of the scheme would be on enrolling the poorest students, timely payments, comprehensive accountability, continuous monitoring and total transparency. A campaign will be launched to enrol the students, from the poorest households passing the 10th standard in the higher education courses of their choice, it added.
According to government estimates, 13.6 million students currently not pursuing higher education would be able to do so in the next five years because of the revamped scheme.
The scheme will be run on an online platform with robust cyber security measures that would assure transparency, accountability, efficiency, and timely delivery of the assistance without any delays, the statement said.
Social justice secretary R Subrahmanyam said nearly two-thirds of SC students in higher education will benefit from the scheme.
Social activist Beena Pallical said the support is a lifeline for students from weaker sections. “We really welcome the move to strengthen the scheme and increase the funds and making the scheme robust,” she said.
Eminent educationists and former UGC member Inder Mohan Kapahy said: “If the target of 50% GER envisaged in NEP 2020 is to be achieved, huge investments shall be required to encourage socially backward classes for higher education. At present, the GER is around 27%, and for SCs and STs, it is 20% & 15%, respectively. The Union government increasing the budget for Post Matric scholarships over 550% shall certainly help.”
Merger of film media units
The Union Cabinet approved the merger of four government film media units with the NFDC with an aim of converging activities and resources and better coordination to ensure synergy and efficiency in achieving the mandate of the bodies.
An official statement said the Films Division, the Directorate of Film Festivals, the National Film Archives of India and the Children’s Film Society, India will be merged with the National Film Development Corporation Limited by expanding the memorandum of articles of association of the NFDC, which will then carry out all the activities performed by the four organisations.