With the fetishisation of a civil services career reaching absurd heights, in the absence of promising alternatives, are universities truly implementing reforms that students and policy-makers desperately grovel for?
Fretful students are aplenty across Delhi University, bearing a weary visage as they toil hours in damp and packed rooms for the sake of a distant endeavour: to make it through the arduous civil services examination. The liberal arts and pure sciences curricula of universities across India are inexorably intertwined with the forced aspirations to get the coveted tag of a civil servant. In a country where the options of securing a bright future are bleak, a career in the Indian Civil Services (hereafter ICS) makes everyone, be it a lower-middle-class family or diplomatic circle, race after the achievement of accomplishing “civils”.
The university students are the first ones who are affected, often times forced, to pursue this ultimate Indian dream. Coaching institutes and even universities capitalise on this dream and make money off the naïve students and their hopeful guardians. Notwithstanding these developments, university officials vehemently deny the extent to which the civil service examinations have rendered students deadened and captive to its false charisma. A casual stroll across the North Campus of Delhi University would make one gape in horror at the sight of massive hoardings and billboards depicting eerily grinning applicants of institutes that prepare university students for the UPSC exams.
While officials can’t be held responsible for private entities selling this dream, but they can be questioned about the use of public-funded educational institutes for holding conferences and seminars pertaining to ICS examinations. The coaching institutes thrive on the patronage extended to them by colleges in exchange of money. Students from the liberal arts as well as the science streams are adequately represented in such seminars, which suggest that prospects are indeed very bleak and dismal in their respective fields. While the university brass is quick to dub this as something undertaken by students on their own volition, all of them evade questions when confronted over the outdated curricula that involuntarily coaxes students towards a monolith career choice. A statistics graduate is poised to find his/her skills unrequited owing to the glut of labour, a parameter simply beyond his control, on account of which the only tenable path for him/her to embark upon would be the quest to be an ICS officer. Pestering parents and snooping relatives aren’t the only impediments one has to deal with during this arduous and turgid expedition, for battling depression and stress can be an ever-present burden.
Graduates are rendered jobless in a market where their skills and labour don’t amount to much, which spurs a vicious cycle to kick in, churning millions of students in its mix, most of whom perished while the few make it through. Mounting pressures to maintain an edge amidst the sea of chaos nudges students to accept exploitative internships and adopting an unhealthy lifestyle. This reeks of an endemic that is plaguing DU as well as other premier universities across India.
To what extent should the government intervene to decimate the misleading charm of the ICS within student citadels without risking itself being dubbed as indulging in activities inimical to the interests of the students? This pits policy-makers in a risky position in which none of the options seem viable to undertake without accruing flak. Glibly denouncing the infatuation of university students towards the ICS would rightly invite censure when one isn’t heeding the existence of several other issues marring the Indian educational system. Prone to venerating stability over all such factors, the Indian populace unflinchingly seeks the upward social mobility associated with the civil services. The low acceptance rates of civil service examinations ensure that the thriving and multi-million dollar ICS preparatory industry preys on the paranoia and insecurities of the students. This insecurity comes out of surging unemployment rates that serve as a scathing indictment of the government’s bombastic claims.
Professors tout the civil services as a viable career to pursue, which it of course is; however, what is highly absurd is the extent to which professors concoct ethereal notions around an ICS career and fellate upon its perks beyond proportions. While colleges will downplay any attempts hinting at connivance between them and the coaching industry, one thing’s certain: this mammoth industry shall flourish with impunity till strong measures are undertaken to arrest the tide of students falling prey to the IAS dream. Till then, visuals of scrawny students frantically rustling their pens on parchments monotonously shall continue to be immortalised.
Image Credits: DNA India