Civil Services as career choice has lowest success rates
It took Ira Singhal, this year’s Indian Administrative
Services (IAS) exam topper, four years to get to that position. Singhal’s was a
special case—she had earlier cracked the exam but was refused a posting because
of her disability. But nearly seven out of every 10 candidates require at least
three attempts before succeeding in the civil services entrance.
Abysmal success rates, years of preparation and multiple
attempts by candidates past their mid-twenties studying subjects other than what
they have been trained in, and the ability to get into some of the country’s
best educational institutions are some of the key attributes of the IAS entrance
process. Here’s what data put out by the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC)
for the decade up to 2012 (the latest available numbers) tells us.
The civil services exam has among the lowest success rates
among competitive examinations. More than 40.59 lakh people applied during
2002-2012. Only 20.11 lakh appeared for the preliminary exam. Those who qualify
the preliminary stage have to go through two more stages: main examination and
interview. The entire process lasts 9-10 months. The overall success rate has
always been less than five people per 1,000 applicants.
However, if there is one example of the Indian youth not giving up, it is the
civil services exam. Only one in every 10 candidate succeeds in the first
The civil services has always been viewed as a dangerous
career choice because it might be too late to pursue other avenues if one does
not succeed. However, this does not deter aspirants to continue their dogged
pursuits, often well past their mid-twenties.
Satyendranath Tagore, the elder brother of Rabindranath
Tagore, was the first Indian to qualify for the Indian Civil Service exam in
1863. Tagore was an author, song composer and linguist. Recent data, however,
shows that technocrats are dominating the civil services exams. Those with an
engineering and medical background have the highest success rate among
interviewed applicants. This might be so because those who enter engineering and
medical colleges in India have to undergo tough competition right after higher
secondary level. In that sense, they are, statistically speaking, the creamy
layer in a given lot of students.
The background of a candidate doesn’t mean that the person
automatically opts for that subject in the main examination. Neither engineering
nor medical sciences are among the top 10 subjects. Public administration is the
most preferred subject. The reason for its popularity might be a shorter
syllabus with many things in common with the general studies portion for the
preliminary examination and easy availability of preparatory material, said
Rakesh Kumar, who qualified the civil service exam in 2009.
Delhi had the maximum successful candidates in the decade up
to 2012. That could be perhaps owing to the number of top Indian educational
institutions in that city. Delhi University, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs)
and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have sent the maximum number of candidates
to the civil services. Indeed, in JNU, the library’s reading room has been
christened Dhaulpur House, the building which houses UPSC headquarters.
However, if one looks at the home states of serving IAS
officers, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar top the list. That isn’t so surprising, given
that these states (if one includes Jharkhand which was carved out of Bihar in
2000) are the top two by population. But socio-economic factors might also be at
play with the tag of an IAS officer putting a premium in these states. For in
many states, for instance West Bengal, the number of serving IAS officers does
not match the state’s rank in population.
The disproportionately high number of successful candidates from Delhi is
also a reflection of the fact that a large number of those who aspire to get
into civil services come to this city for preparations.
The tale of getting into the civil services is one of hard
work and dogged perseverance. That’s why it is all the more baffling how the
Indian bureaucracy, which comprises such hard-working and committed people,
earned the disrepute of running what is considered an inefficient government