UPSC CSE: More engineers, doctors switching to civil services; but what’s wrong in that?

Report says steady decline in the number of candidates from the humanities stream opting for civil service between 2011 and 2020.
A recent parliamentary standing committee report has flagged concern over an increase in doctors and engineers entering the field of civil services. It also pointed out a steady decline in the number of candidates from the humanities stream opting for civil service between 2011 and 2020.
From 27 per cent such candidates qualifying for the annual civil services exam in 2011, the number has dropped to 23 per cent in 2020, according to data in the 131st report on “Review of Functioning of Recruitment Organizations of Government of India”, tabled by the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.
“Above 70 per cent of the recruits in the civil service by UPSC nowadays are from technical streams. Every year, hundreds of technocrats are thus being lost, who are likely to work in other specific areas which is also a requirement for the nation,” the report mentioned.
But what’s wrong with having more engineers or doctors as civil servants? Especially at a time when the government is pushing digital literacy. Wouldn’t more technocrats as civil servants help the overall planning and execution?
Nanditesh Nilay, who teaches and trains courses on ethics, values and behaviour, said that artificial intelligence and its application need a digital mindset person, and aspirants from engineering backgrounds will benefit the cause.
“When we see the larger picture and the presence of AI in every field, we need an adaptable and ordered mindset rather than just a technical mindset. Don’t forget only those will survive who are adaptable to change. So everyone will have to be positive and assertive about technology. However, remaining or becoming a true civil servant needs not only a digital mindset but a compassionate and courageous mindset,” Nilay pointed out.
In the last 10 years, the report pointed out that out of 833 candidates selected through the civil services examination 2020, 541 candidates (65 per cent) had an engineering background, 33 (four per cent) medical background, 193 (23 per cent) humanities background and 66 (eight per cent) “others” background.
Of the 922 candidates selected through the civil services examination-2019, 582 (63 per cent) had an engineering background, 56 (six per cent) medical background, 223 (25 per cent) humanities background and 61 (six per cent) “others” background.
Moreover, a 2020 survey by an edtech company Scaler highlighted that nearly 15 lakh engineers graduate in India every year. With India producing such a high number of tech graduates, does it matter that a small number switch to governance from their core domain?
“Not at all. With the focus on e-governance, more technocrats are needed in all fields including civil services. Engineers are more pro to technology and therefore, they have an edge over the non-technical background candidates. Civil servants are anyway taught empathy and ethics during their training at LBSNAA,” said Sajal Singh from Civildaily coaching institute.
Himanshu Poswal, 27-year-old UPSC aspirant, echoes the same: “I am an engineer and I can say with great conviction that engineers do have leverage. However, it’s not a ‘mega’ skill that can’t be learnt later. Students from humanities backgrounds bring academic empathy to civil services that technical graduates can learn from. Civil servants are required to be generalists.”
However, another aspirant Arunika Mathur believes that the job of a bureaucrat requires a multi-disciplinary approach and that only comes when having an in-depth understanding of multiple subjects and there should not be a preponderance of any one stream.
“We need a beautiful blend of technical and Humanities subjects with respect to bureaucrats,” said Arunika.
She further elaborated by giving an example: “Taking a case in point – if there’s a communal riot in the district it’s very important for the officer in-charge to have an inherent understanding of communalism in general and the history of that area – they then need to employ this understanding to understand the problem statement better and arrive at a holistic solution comprising both a humanistic approach to look after the people affected by the riots and technical approach to maintain law and order.”
Why a lesser number of Humanities students qualifying for UPSC CSE?
In 2015, the government made the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) a qualifying paper for the UPSC prelims exam. However, experts have noticed that for the past five years, this paper has been getting tougher and that could be one of the reasons why Humanities candidates number is going down.
“CSAT is turning out to be trickier for the Humanities students who otherwise perform better in the Mains as it is a written exam and needs in-depth knowledge. Engineers, especially from top colleges, are good at both writing and communications. I have seen how during the mock interviews, they are able to convince their point of view more confidently. Unarguably, they dominate the CSE result,” Singh said, adding that more MBBS graduates are applying for CSE than those who are MS/MD.
“Medical science is a high-scoring subject. Since they are already used to studying 12-14 hours a day during their college days, they replicate the same dedication during civil services preparation,” Singh said.
Sejal Singh cited the example of doctor Rajendra Bharud, a Collector in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district, who was in news for his setting-up of oxygen plants in the tribal district during the pandemic.
Another example of good governance is of ex-Railway Board chief Ashwin Lohani, a mechanical engineer and a steam engine train enthusiast.
Lohani played a key role in putting up Indian rail heritage on the world map by upgrading the steam shed at Rewari. “Those with specialised degrees will bring their knowledge to good use. And at this point of time, we need more such people as bureaucrats,” Singh said.
Saghir Ansari, director at Residential Coaching Academy, Aligarh Muslim University, counters that the scope of civil services is not only related to use of technology but to take critical decisions in matters of administration and public order which involves understanding the complex human behaviour and to act accordingly.
“Policy formulation to address major social problems including unemployment, social assistance, communal violence, radicalism, etc, requires better understanding of historical, societal, political, and economical perspectives. In my opinion, technology should be used as a servant and not as a master in governing society and solving societal problems. Given our diverse human capital and its potential, we cannot restrict ourselves to such a notion that engineers are needed more as civil servants,” he said.
Ansari pointed out that all civil servants from different educational backgrounds must be trained to work smarter and comfortably use and embrace AI and other digital tools to ensure citizen centricity, digital empowerment of the citizens and to transform into a knowledge based economy in the future.
Nanditesh Nilay further elaborated that in a result-obsessed world, effort is not felt and absorbed but only counted.
“We are data-driven rather than virtue-driven. If values and ethics are subjectively and objectively assessed regularly, institutions and individuals will be aligned for an integrated approach towards society and nature. So give engineering and humanities aspirations an even field not only in selection but overall. Trust me, only this will work,” he said.


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