Several aspirants and coaching institutes have been demanding changes to the existing pattern of the civil services examination, conducted annually by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to select candidates for IAS, IPS, IFS and other Group A and Group B services under the Central government. K. Shrivesh, director of Sri Chaitanya IAS Academy in Delhi, said, “The UPSC should look to make changes to suit the students, keeping in mind the changing scenario in world politics. As the UPSC has been demanding generalists rather than specialists, they should do away with the optional subject paper and focus more on making the general studies paper more dynamic, making students focus more on the law of the land, the Constitution, the economic structures and such subjects that would help them in their jobs. I don’t see what good the optional paper does.”
Aspirants of the civil services examination also have the same view on the optional subject, which carries 500 marks. Sparsh Kumar Sinha, an IAS aspirant from Uttar Pradesh who has shifted to Delhi to prepare for the examination, said, “The optional subject just adds a burden on students. If they are testing our subject knowledge, it has already been tested in our colleges. They should revamp the examination in a way that we get to learn the subjects that would actually help us in our jobs.”
S.P. Jha, programme director at Byju’s, a coaching institute for civil services exams, also has concerns about the “uncertain nature” of the UPSC. He said, “Since the past three years, the huge uncertainty of the UPSC has taken a toll on students. For example, when CSAT (Civil Services Aptitude Test) was made from a scoring subject to a qualifying subject in 2015, it was notified only in May, just three months before the examination. This decision had affected students who had done a year-long preparation of CSAT. Something of this nature was also done when the re-structuring of the Mains examination was done in 2013. The UPSC should give at least a window of one year to students to adapt to such drastic changes.”
Siddharth Singh, another aspirant, feels that the examination system should dedicate more time and marks to the interview process, where the personality of a candidate can be assessed. There have also been concerns among students about the possible reduction of the age limit to appear for this examination.
Dr Ravi P. Agrahari, Ecology and Environmental studies mentor at the GS World, said, “There have been rumours on the reduction of age limit for the exam, but if the government does something like that, it would be unfair towards rural students. The government should then be prepared for agitation by students. The UPSC should strictly consider not taking such a drastic step that could create a wider gap between rural and urban students.”
Owing to mounting demands from various quarters, the UPSC had set up a seven-member expert committee under the chairmanship of B.S. Baswan in August 2015 to look into the possible changes in the current pattern of the civil services examination. The committee missed the deadline of February this year and has been given an extension of six months to submit its final report by 11 August 2016.
The UPSC, in a press release dated 12 August 2015 had said: “The committee has been set up to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing scheme of the civil services examination in selecting suitable candidates. It would also look for inclusiveness in the selection process, a fair mix of candidates from different disciplines. It would also look into the broad areas to be covered in each paper, weightage of marks, system of evaluation, etc. It would look into the time frame of the examination to be conducted. It would also suggest suitable eligibility criteria for appearing candidates, with particular reference to minimum and maximum age.”
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity, a member of the expert committee said, “We are planning to bring out a fair report which looks at the concerns of all the constituents. A lot of work has been done and we have followed a consultative process. We were in the process of getting the views of those who have been successful, those who have not been successful, trainees, the government, as also past and present civil servants and the general public. We have received a lot of suggestions and are going through them systematically.”