New Delhi: India’s civil service coaching industry, which is estimated to be worth over Rs 3,000 crore, remains unaffordable for several underprivileged UPSC aspirants. This is why state governments are increasingly trying to pitch in to provide affordable coaching and other forms of help to budding civil servants.
The Delhi government, for example, has started a monthly initiative in which young serving officials will share their experience, strategies and insights about preparing for the UPSC exam. The initiative is for Delhi government school students, and the first such interactive session was organised earlier this week.
An official associated with the initiative told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity: “Private school-going children often start coaching very early on, and can afford to go to coaching centres where former officers would be teaching them… They get good quality coaching at a high fee. But for government school-going children, the process remains intimidating. This is an attempt to allow them to interact with serving officers, and make it less intimidating.”
But Delhi is hardly alone in trying to bridge the socio-economic gap in UPSC coaching — many other states are tackling the problem in various ways.
For example, the Uttar Pradesh government launched the ‘Mukhyamantri Abhyudaya Yojana’ earlier this month. As part of this scheme, the state government will start free-of-cost coaching centres at the divisional level, and get direct senior IAS, IPS and Provincial Civil Service officers to counsel students. The scheme will also extend to other competitive exams, for which coaching is available only from for-profit centres, leaving out several economically and socially backward students.
Last year, the Rajasthan government too said it will provide free coaching through reputed institutions to civil services aspirants belonging to various tribes and the Sahariya community. Unlike the UP government, which is opening up its own centres, the Rajasthan government will provide reimbursements to existing coaching institutes for providing the service to underprivileged candidates — a model followed by the central government as well.
Southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the IAS has been particularly sought-after, have had government-sponsored coaching schemes for years now.
Serving officers turn teachers
While retired officers are free to teach in private centres, government initiatives like the one in UP open up possibilities for serving officers to help out young people as well.
Sidharth Nath Singh, the UP government spokesperson and cabinet minister for MSME, investment & export, textile and khadi-gram udyog, told ThePrint: “Starting a scheme like this will ensure that we have a large number of officers from Uttar Pradesh. This is free coaching which will be given to IAS aspirants by IAS officers themselves — that is something no private coaching centre offers.”
A 2017 batch UP cadre IAS officer who didn’t wish to be named echoed this thought, saying he was hoping to coach students under the new scheme.
“I come from a very underprivileged background myself, and I know how hard it is for candidates from poor families to travel to big cities like Delhi and bear the expenses of coaching and living there… Many of my own batchmates lived in Mukherjee Nagar for years, but I could not afford to live in Delhi,” the officer said.
“Government jobs are a big dream for the underprivileged, but they can neither afford the time nor the cost of coaching for several years… So, it is so important that governments step in and help out these candidates by providing them quality coaching.”
Aditya Das, a class XI student at a government school in Delhi, agreed that interacting directly with serving officers was a good idea.
“When IAS, IPS officers come and speak to us directly, it automatically boosts our confidence. There are some officers who don’t speak English very well, but still make it… That gives us confidence that we can also crack the exam and reach the top,” Das said.
Apart from the confidence aspect, aspirants also get a peek into the actual world of the officers they are interacting with or being coached by — one that cannot be captured by their social media posts or good news stories about how they made it.
“They actually share their struggles not just before cracking the exam, but also after cracking it, so if we are aspiring for the IAS or IPS, we know what we are aiming for,” said Kalpana Jogi, a class IX student from a Delhi school. “A lot of us who think we can join government service for power will get dissuaded.”
However, despite the positive reception for the states’ initiatives, questions over quality remain.
For example, in November last year, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment found that coaching institutes receiving government grants to provide free tutoring to Schedule Caste (SC) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) candidates for competitive exams were “grossly misusing” the funds.
A survey conducted by the government showed that a number of students claimed to have never attended or enrolled at the coaching institute to which the government was granting reimbursements. Several also claimed they had to make payments on their own to receive coaching.
In Tamil Nadu, the success rate of UPSC aspirants from the All India Civil Services Coaching Centre in Chennai showed a constant decline for over five years since 2014. Reasons cited for the decline included mismanagement by authorities.
To add to the problem, there is also competition from the private sector, which remunerates its ‘star’ teachers handsomely — something government-backed centres can seldom match.
In some cases, the state government fee is also too high for underprivileged candidates. Babu Sebastian, vice-chairman of a not-for-profit institute in Kerala which started a ‘One School, One IAS’ scheme last month, said the state government’s own coaching costs about Rs 50,000 per candidate per year, which can be unaffordable for several students.
“Since neither the state government nor the private sector catered to a large number of aspirants, our organisation aims to provide free coaching to meritorious students by several former officers, including the likes of the former chief secretary and former DGP of the state,” Sebastian said.