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Engineers still account for 60% of new civil servants, despite UPSC’s attempts at diversity

UPSC uses a secret formula to ‘normalise’ scores in optional subjects, as there’s a gap between humanities marks and that in a technical subject like maths.

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New Delhi: Despite attempts by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to increase the educational diversity of candidates selected through the civil service exam, the number of engineers becoming civil servants has remained disproportionately high — nearly 60 per cent in the last two years.

Data accessed by ThePrint shows that of the 428 civil servants of the 2020 batch who have gone to the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) in Mussoorie for training, 245, or 57.25 per cent, are engineers. Eight others have engineering-plus-management backgrounds. There are only 84 civil servants in the batch from an arts background, accounting for 19.6 per cent of the intake.

In the 2019 batch, of the 325 total civil service trainees who went to LBSNAA, 191 or 58.7 per cent were engineers. Another 10 had engineering-plus-management backgrounds. There were 52 qualified candidates with an arts background — 16 per cent of the total strength.

Even the year before that, the number of officer trainees at LBSNAA with engineering or B.Tech. backgrounds were 73 and 138, respectively, together constituting 57.4 per cent of the total intake of 367 officers.

“Those from an engineering background have continued to dominate. Sometimes, the numbers go marginally up or down, but there is no major change in the trend of engineers coming into the civil services,” said LBSNAA director Sanjeev Chopra.

Also read: ‘No scam’ — this is why UPSC always recruits fewer candidates than posts notified

UPSC’s attempts to ‘normalise’ difference in streams

The trend of civil servants from engineering backgrounds has continued even as the UPSC has sought to “normalise” the difference between those going for technical subjects like mathematics or physics and those taking up humanities like sociology or geography as optional subjects.

Since the scoring in the optional subject can vary widely, the UPSC, through a closely guarded formula, minimises the difference in scores.

“Over the years, the UPSC has been trying to make sure that candidates who choose humanities subjects are not put at a disadvantage, by normalising the scores across subjects, yet the number of engineers is very high,” said a teacher at the Shri Chaitanya IAS Academy.

“But because they have to study way more for maths or physics, engineers themselves take up humanities as the optional subject. So, just because the UPSC is trying to normalise scores doesn’t mean that the representation of liberal arts students will go up,” said the teacher, who did not wish to be named.

“In the last five years or so, the engineers who have cracked the exam have all taken humanities subjects. But the point is that UPSC scores candidates on the basis of ‘model answers’. The ability of those with engineering degrees to reproduce these model answers is still higher than those with humanities backgrounds, who, even with a better understanding of the subject, are unable to give ‘model answers’,” the teacher explained.

Gap between optional subject scores shrinking

Candidates and coaching centres estimate that the gap between mathematics and optional subjects under the humanities umbrella until last year was over 100 points, with those in mathematics scoring up to 400, and those in subjects like geography, sociology scoring up to 280 points at best. However, this year, the highest score in mathematics is 343, with the scoring gap to humanities subjects shrinking to about 40 points, the teacher from the Shri Chaitanya IAS Academy said.

Aspirants who took the civil service exam in 2019 also say the gap between scores in different optional subjects has come down significantly this year.

Candidates who have been taking the exam for a few years now say the gap in scoring between the subjects used to be about 200 points until a few years ago, with those taking humanities subjects barely scoring 180-200 points.

Also read: Language test for UPSC — less than 5% IAS, IFS officers take civil services exam in Hindi

A formula shrouded in secrecy 

UPSC officials, both serving and retired, say the “normalising” formula that seeks to bring in some parity in marks has existed for several years, but it will not be divulged even under the Right to Information, because revealing it would diminish the sanctity of the UPSC exam.

Satyanand Mishra, former secretary, Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), said: “When I was the secretary, several RTIs came to us regarding this formula, but the UPSC never divulged it. It was the right stand, because it is just a formula devised by experts… It can be challenged in the courts by those who see themselves at a disadvantage, and lead to unending litigation. That would just impede the examination and recruitment process.”

There are other reasons for the existence of the formula too, apart from normalising scores.

“Answer sheets of candidates are distributed across different examiners. Now, one person may be more generous than another in awarding marks. So, there is a scientific formula by which these marks are normalised,” Mishra continued.

“And then of course, there is this disparity between humanities and non-humanities subjects. Over the years, it was felt too many engineering students were coming into the services. There will always be a difference between descriptive answers and non-descriptive answers, and this formula is used to normalise the inherent difference,” he added.

Gurbachan Jagat, former chairperson of the UPSC, also said: “A very fair formula exists, which has been scientifically arrived at. It existed even when I was there (from 2002-07), but I think the formula has evolved over the years, and the gap (between marks) has consistently shrunk.”

He added, “Even as the UPSC chairperson, I was not privy to the formula, but I knew that it was an extremely fair one, which did not put anyone at a disadvantage.”

A serving government official in the know, who did not wish to be identified, said: “The UPSC has been trying to ensure parity for many years now… Students should not conjecture, and simply choose the subjects they are interested in. The scaling of scores should not be a factor for them.”

Asked how the UPSC carries out the scaling, the official said it is a scientific formula, but it is the “intellectual property” of the UPSC and cannot be shared publicly.

Backing of the courts

The UPSC has even maintained this stand in front of the Supreme Court, and won its approval.

In 2018, in a petition filed by candidates seeking transparency regarding cut-off marks for every subject, scaling methodology, model answers and complete result of all candidates, the Supreme Court observed that declaring raw marks, as submitted by the UPSC, will cause problems such as non-appreciation of marking standards, dilution of faith and credibility in the system, and subsequent challenges to the system’s integrity, including through litigation.

In 2007, in a case regarding the disclosure of cut-off marks for the optional subjects as well as for general studies of the Civil Services (Preliminary Examination), 2006, the UPSC had told the Delhi High Court that the information was in the nature of crucial secrets, and constituted the intellectual property of the UPSC within the meaning of Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act, and that there was there was no public interest requiring the disclosure of such information.

However, in the same case, advocate Prashant Bhushan had argued that the formula of the UPSC had been revealed to the Supreme Court in 2002, when the commission had reportedly said the commission was following “a linear method for its examinations”, based on “the Normalised Equi-Percentile (NEP) method for the optional objective type papers”, for normalisation.

This uncertainty of marks in optional subjects is seen as something that takes away the level playing field in the civil service exam, and the Baswan committee set up in 2016 to recommend reforms for the UPSC had suggested removing the optional paper altogether for precisely this reason.

Also read: ‘Irregularities’ in lateral entry of 3 joint secretaries — hiring row hits UPSC & DoPT


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  1. The proof is in the pudding, when Engineers / Doctors etc. taking up Humanities as their Optionals are beating the Humanities students in their own game. Since a sizeable number of the Humanities students are enwrapped in the Dharna and Dramebaazi culture that has poisioned our Central University campuses, and are fed with Marxist literature at the expense of every other philosophical, and sociological thought process, it is no wonder that these students are only good at presenting problems and protesting, but are never taught to solve the problems in the first place. This is an inherent flaw with Marxist ideology and its followers, they are good problem-presenters but are poor problem solvers. And as some of the other posters mentioned, many of the brightest young minds in India rightfully prefer Medical, Engineering and Law streams (which are all problem-solving professions) and adding to that due to their rigorous preparation for these highly competitive examinations and thereafter the rigorous curriculum in their courses, they are far and away better prepared Civils than the Humanities students. What else can you expect from a steam where 40 y/o often languish in the Central Universities for political purposes while under the pretext of pursing meaningless PhDs?

  2. Why not altogether end IAS /PCS services as British who started it has done. However, those are logic oriented and got selected in prestigious engineering college will succeed in all kind of entrance exams. So choosing IAS by aby exam will not change the trend. may be change services in such a way that it is not considered as powerful elite services having the highest hierarchy in government services. If doctors in medical colleges and the civil hospitals are ordered by district collector, then obviously , the doctor would like to be collector.

  3. I don’t know why some of you have hatred towards engineers.They qualify after rigorous hard work and followed UPSC norms for next step of exam.

  4. I am not an Engineering graduate but i do understand the situation. I completely agree with one of the above comment.. Most of the brilliant students choose science stream after 10th and engineering or medical after 12th.. And due to job conditions or unemployment most of them are going for civil services… Its quite natural to have them in more numbers.. Also students blaming CSAT for their disqualification should understand if they can’t handle a single paper how they are going to perform in service.. Stop the blame game and start studying… Best Luck!

  5. I had been course director of a civil services coaching centre for a short period. During the period I was in charge, a few students who passed the exam were all engineers. I found that students from engineering background are successful because of two reasons. First, preparation for All India JEE or state JEE moulds the attitude of a young mind to give his or her best at all difficult circumstances. At the sametime they are more systematic in their approach compared to students from humanities background.
    Second, barring a few exceptions science and technology students are far superior intellectually. They can grasp a point, link different points of a social issue very quickly. In fact, it is a misconception that they are not conversant with social issues.

  6. Engineers/doctors are problem solvers, we need more engineers in other fields as well. Let arts/commerce fellows be limited to junior paper pushing bureaucracy. Only engineers can uplift India. Libbys have destroyed our country’s structures.

  7. When staying in the UK, I learnt there is no equivalent of the IAS , IPS in the UK. The ICS and IPS were created by the British to exploit Indians. The same is continuing. The competence, efficience , and integrity of these services is anybody’s guess. Moreover, the diversion of engineers to the IAS and IPS is a great national loss. India cannot compete with China or the developed west, if this set up continues. But as an engineer, I know what poor standard of life and service we suffered. There is amad fascination for the IAS and IPS just to gain power , authority with no responsibility or accountability!!! Where in the world can anyone get s The govt. idea to privatise 28 PSU s is also irrational and is going to be a disaster. No brains have gone to establish the PSUs on the lines of the IAS. All PSUs are under the President of India. I have not seen any wise decision related to the organisation of the PSUs come from this level.Ministers come and go…. using the PSUs for political advantage. The P.M. addresses the IAS trainees. How many times has he addressed the engineers in the PSUs???.If I were the P.M., I would establish the PSUs as a single body with several arms and a central training institute for them and good salary, perks. Can you believe, we as engineer trainees were given hostel accommodation with 3 persons in each room and common stinking toilets! But our politicians have no interest, enthusiasm or desire to organise the PSUs on solid footing. That is why India is so backward and has to import Rafle jets from France and give contract to China for profile cutting of the metal cladding over the statue of Sardar Ballabh Bhai Patel.Then we talk of Atmanirbhar! The British ruled over us only because they were technologically advanced , though in size the UK is 1/13th the size of India. But we give importance to clerical hobs like the IAS, and disrespect our engineers. Can India ever rule over any other country? We cannot govern ourselves!!! Rampant corruption, incompetence in administration for over 74 yrs. of Independence still we contInue to harp the same liking for the IAS! The result of having thousands of IAS officers is that not a single govt. Office is free of corruption, not a single office is citizen friendly . These bara baboos are only interested in kowtowing begore the ministers and ensiring their smooth career growth and enjoying perks at the cist of public money.

  8. If take the unemployment in engineering, it is significantly high in our country.Students are well trained but not enough job for there education qualification.Since,taking more engineering students in UPSC is not a big issue at all.But don’t make it as a trend.

  9. Since 2017…CSAT ( Paper 2 ) in UPSC prelims getting tougher which results in failure of non engineering aspirants despite scoring good in Paper 1..

  10. It is true, too many engineers are coming into the IAS exam. Why can’t they just do their engineering jobs. This sickens me.

  11. A crucial detail missing from the article is the percentage of UPSC applicants who are engineers. Without this figure how can one come to the conclusion that ‘the number of engineers has remained disproportionately high’? Also, I fail to understand the collective hatred against engineers, be it UPSC or the IIM admission process. Despite trying tooth and nail, IIMs have not been able to reduce the number of engineers below 80%. But the moot point here is why are they ‘trying’ to reduce the number of engineers. If diversity is so crucial, they may as well fix quotas based on their backgrounds, there is no need to secretly keep tweaking question papers and marks of the candidates. I also find it baffling, after having read so many articles over ‘over-representation’ of engineers, particularly in IIMs, that none of the authors tries to find out the root cause behind this trend. In a poor country like India, kids don’t have the luxury of taking courses which either pay them poorly or pay them well only after having invested 7-8 years of their life. An engineering degree on the other hand guarantees to some extent a respectable job. Isn’t it unfair to target students having B.Tech degrees for choosing a path which is based on compulsion and harsh ground realities. One also needs to find out why most of the top performing students in 10th board exams choose PCM or PCB for their 10+2. If we want to have more number of brilliant students in humanities and commerce streams, we need to counsel kids right at the school level and make them aware of the opportunities that exist in these streams, rather than putting them at a disadvantage while applying to higher education and jobs

  12. Please permit me to modify my views expressed earlier:
    Most engineers clear the UPSC exam with subjects like History and Sociology and Geography.
    So, now we have a piquant situation. Those candidates who have studied these subjects for 15 years are scoring less marks than those who have studied them for 15 weeks.
    Fir to we can only ask history etc BAs to clean the farsh on which these enigneering graduates stand.

  13. In British India the Muslims could not clear the ICS examination. They also could not clear the selection process for Sandhurst. So, since 1876, Muslims were taken into the ICS and into the military ‘by nomination’. That ensured that at least one third of candidates in any year were Muslims even if they did not know hot to read, write or lead. They were good show pieces.
    Similarly, today the government of India should nominate non-engineers on at least 30% of the seats in the civil services. Since History and Philosophy are the most popular subjects, at least 15% seats should be reserved for students who have graduated in History and or Philosophy. The remaining 15% seats can be divided as follows: 1% for MBBS, 3% for Economics, 1% for Women’s Studies, 1% for Dalit Studies, 1% for Gandhian Studies, 2% for BSc, 5% for Sociology, Political Science and Languages.
    Already the civil servants of India are so incompetent, at least by using the scheme mentioned above we will have created an equal opportunity incompetence structure.

  14. Engineers love logic. Present anything to them in a logical way and they accept. Hence they are easiest to manipulate.

    • You proposition is correct. but the conclusion drawn from it is incorrect. Only things which can be explained by logic and empirical evidence can be proven and hence they are harder to accept. Not the other way round. People who form opinions without logic and empirical evidence are the ones who are easier to manipulate .

    • The only point of having a shorter multiple choice type Prelims is to filter a sizeable portion of the candidates out. Doing the other way round makes no sense at all. In fact, doing that would lead to no utility of Prelims at all. Also, this idea is totally irrelevant to the context in which this article has been written. Its not about Mains v Prelims but about reducing the disparity in scoring for different subjects.

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