Correcting anomalies

Published : Dec 30, 2005 00:00 IST

Since the questions range from medieval history to the latest technology, the exam is known for the breadth of subjects covered and the attention required. -

Since the questions range from medieval history to the latest technology, the exam is known for the breadth of subjects covered and the attention required. -

The Alagh Committee has made a strong case for sweeping changes in the selection process and the structure of the civil services itself.

THE Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination for the civil services is considered the ultimate in competitive exams. Statistics indicate that the number of aspirants is higher than those taking other competitive examination. The preparation time is usually long - at least two years, and the success rate is minimal. Since questions asked range from medieval history to the latest technology, the exam is known for the breadth of subjects covered and the attention required.

But lately, questions are now being asked about the exam itself. Given that an ideal administrator must be intelligent, dynamic, inspired, innovative, honest and compassionate, is the exam an effective means evaluate the aspirants? Does it test the aspirants adequately on the skills required to become an effective administrator?

Many feel that the exam is slowly losing its relevance, and that its emphasis on information retention is unnecessary. It is also felt that the exam is dangerously close to obsolescence, and must be updated.

"The UPSC exam lays an excessive emphasis on theoretical issues," says Krishna Reddy of Krishna Reddy IAS Study Point (KRISP). "They should now modernise the syllabus a little more," concurs Sriram, of Sriram's IAS. He feels that while the exam tests the examinee on a fantastic range of subjects, the choice of Optional papers could be reduced. "How does an optional paper in Zoology equip you to become an effective administrator?" he asks.

Sriram and Krishna Reddy are not the only ones questioning the methodology of testing. The UPSC itself had appointed a committee, headed by Professor Yoginder K. Alagh, to review the selection procedure and suggest improvements. While the report was submitted to the UPSC on October 22, 2002, nothing has come of it.

The Alagh Committee Report was largely critical of both the selection procedure and the quality of bureaucrats being selected and groomed at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussuorie. It stated that the majority of civil servants tended to be unresponsive to innovation, intellectually sluggish and caught in a "ruler mindset". Thus, it made a strong case for sweeping changes in the selection process and the structure of the civil services itself.

It has recommended a thorough review of the selection process. To begin with, the report suggests that the recruitment age be lowered, as the opportunity costs for taking the exams at higher ages are substantial for candidates from poor families. The Committee has also designed modules by which younger candidates can be recruited. Apart from lower economic and opportunity costs, a younger team of officers implies flexibility, innovation and dynamism, as older candidates tend to be more set in their ways, and less receptive to new ideas.

In terms of changes to the exam format, the Committee has recommended that a greater emphasis be laid on objective-type questions in the Preliminary examination. It recommends that the Main examination move away from the classical academic subjects to diverse fields such as Environment, Law and Technology. It is felt that the subjects should have greater relevance to the task of administration.

The report also suggests that training for the civil services should be a long-term and ongoing process. On-site training, field training and real-world exercises should be given greater emphasis to allow the recruits to interact with people at the grassroots. This, the Committee believes, will give future administrators perspective and improve the implementation and efficacy of the schemes and programmes promoted by the government.

Alluding to the changing nature of the interactions and relations between the state and civil society, the report emphasises the need to select reform-minded administrators capable of interfacing with non-governmental organisations, cooperatives, local autonomous bodies and help local economies and societies integrate with domestic and global markets.

The report also recommends that candidates selected should be aware of the socio-economic matrix in which they are to operate, and the strengths and weaknesses of society and the country.

While taking note of the difficulties involved in testing a candidate for honesty and integrity, the report feels that, given the importance of such traits, an effort must be made nonetheless.

While many welcome the suggestions of the report, there are other issues that must be addressed. "I agree that greater emphasis must be given to the General Studies section," says Sriram. "In fact, I feel that Law should be made a compulsory part of the General Studies section. As an administrator, knowledge of the Indian Penal Code, the Constitution and so on is essential."

Most of the teachers seem united on the need to reduce the weightage given to the optionals. While some suggest that optionals be dropped altogether, others feel that the number of Optionals should be reduced from two to one. In its place, the General Studies section should be expanded, with a special emphasis on current issues in Economics, Politics and Social Trends.

Optionals have come under fire for a number of reasons, the primary one being their relevance to the job of an administrator. For example, optionals include Electronic Engineering, Chemistry and Physics alongside more relevant subjects such as Public Administration, Economics and Geography. The other problem with optionals is that it is difficult to normalise marks across disciplines. Thus, pure sciences and social sciences must be marked on similar scales, to the detriment of the level-playing field that the principle of the exam is based on.

A.K. Mishra of Chanakya IAS, a preparatory centre in New Delhi, feels that the optionals tend to put science students at a disadvantage as the answer script is seen as a means to evaluate a candidate's individuality and analytical ability. Since pure sciences are primarily objective and answer driven, it is difficult for a candidate to prove his individuality to the examiner. "There is a strong need to normalise the marking system," Mishra says.

The other area that has elicited much debate is the interview or the personality assessment round. This round is seen as integral to the selection process as it is the only time that examiners actually meet the candidates face to face. While the nature of the panel and the questions asked are diverse, many feel that the interview needs a categorical format for evaluation. Krishna Reddy also feels that the UPSC interview would do well to incorporate aspects of the military recruitment procedure. "The military uses techniques such as group testing and situational testing," says Reddy, "and these could be far more useful in evaluating the personality of the aspirant.

The Alagh Committee Report is yet to be adopted.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment