AS with previous years, the education sector received a substantial allocation in the Budget 2015.

When tabling the budget in Parliament, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that RM56bil will be allocated to the Education Ministry to carry out teaching and learning programmes.

Some RM250mil will be channelled to School Improvement Specialist Coaches and School Improvement Partners.

The Budget 2015 also provided RM10mil to establish 20 more trust schools in Johor, Sarawak, Selangor, Perak, Negri Sembilan, and Kuala Lumpur.

Established in 2011, the trust school programme sees the private sector partnering with schools to improve their performance.

The heads of trust schools are also given more autonomy in managing and determining the teaching and learning process in the schools.

With 30 trust schools in the country so far, one of the aims of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 – 2025 is to establish 500 trust schools by 2025.

For the maintenance and repair of schools, RM800mil will be allocated towards ensuring a “safe and conducive learning environment” for students.

Of this, RM450mil will be earmarked for national schools, while RM50mil each will be for Chinese vernacular schools; Tamil vernacular schools; religious schools; fully residential schools; government-aided religious schools; and Mara junior science colleges.

Conforming schools (Chinese vernacular secondary schools) which use the national curriculum and registered pondok schools will receive RM25mil each.

Vernacular schools will receive additional support from the ministry in paying their electricity and water bills, as the monthly allocation cap for these utility bills will be increased to RM5,000 from RM2,000 previously.

It was also announced that 12 new schools will be built next year – seven primary schools, three secondary schools and two boarding schools.

For the provision of early childhood education, RM711mil will be allocated specifically to the Education Ministry, Tabika Kemas, Permata and Tabika Perpaduan.

The Budget 2015 also continues two forms of aid that directly benefit parents and students – the schooling assistance programme and the 1Malaysia Book Voucher Programme.

Just like the aid given out earlier this year, all school pupils and students will receive RM100 to help their families with school-related costs, while university students will each receive book vouchers worth RM250 for the purchase of study materials and stationery.

UCSI University student Lim Sin Wei suggested students be allowed to buy more stationery using the book vouchers.

“I’m happy about getting the book vouchers of course, but the 80:20 book to stationery ratio is too much for me.

“Stationery, particularly paper, ink cartridges and thumbdrives can cost a lot,” she said.

The Budget 2015 also gives PTPTN loan borrowers an incentive to pay up; if they make a lump sum payment by March 31 next year, they will receive a 20% discount on their loans, while those who pay consis­tently for 12 months until Dec 31, 2015 will be offered a 10% discount.

Vocational and technical education also received a boost, with a RM1.2bil allocation to upgrade and increase student capacity at vocational and technical colleges.

As demand for places at vocational and technical colleges far exceeded supply, Najib announced an immediate RM100mil allocation to the Education Ministry for 10,000 placements in private colleges. A further RM50 million will be allocated to Mara to implement technical and vocational programmes

A further RM30mil was allocated to provide technical training and education assistance to Indian youth, particularly those from low-income families.

MIC Youth higher education bureau chairman Mahaganapathy Dass welcomed the allocation, saying that it stood to benefit nearly 30,000 youth.

“Every year there are about 40,000 Indian students sitting for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia.

“About 8,000 to 10,000 go to the next level, and perhaps 23,000 go for skills training. What happens to the rest?

“I hope the Government will also consider work placements for these students, so that the investment made for training is fruitful,” he said.

To encourage more people to further their studies, RM112mil will be allocated to MyBrain15 next year to continue offering grants for Masters and PhD study in local universities.

The programme will also be extended to civil servants and employees of statutory bodies next year.

Launched in 2008, the programme aims to produce 60,000 PhD holders by 2023.

To date, there are 34,525 students pursuing post-graduate courses under the programme with a cost of over RM386mil.

Researcher Athirah Rosli said the expansion of the grants would spur more people to embrace lifelong learning.

“Personally, doing a PhD was a no-brainer for me as I was always interested in research and academia.

“But I think many people don’t realise the value of continuing their education; it helps you fine-tune your critical thinking skills, articulate your opinions, and improve your self-discipline.

“Even if you don’t go into academia, these are useful skills for any profession,” she said.