Till as recent as 2010, University of Allahabad (AU) figured among the country’s educational institutions that had its students clearing civil services examination in a big way. So much so, the varsity was touted as a “factory producing IAS officers”.
In fact, AU — as it is called informally after Allahabad University — routinely had two dozen of its students annually getting into the corridors of Indian bureaucracy for decades till the early 1990s. Even in 2008, the varsity registered 26 selections to secure the 4th rank nationwide among 152 institutions. A year later, 25 of its students made the final cut, with AU securing the fifth rank among 170 institutions. In 2010, the varsity stood on eighth position among 171 institutions with 21 selections.
The situation deteriorated in 2011 when AU could manage only seven selections (37th rank) followed by six in 2012 (41st rank). In 2013, it witnessed a washout.
So, how did the decline to single digits happen from 2011 for AU, which is a central university for the past 11 years? And that, with a 13 decade history lit up with a long line-up of renowned IAS officers who entered the coveted profession in the second half of last century?
Observers attribute multiple reasons that have led to the slide for 1887-established AU, once called the ‘Oxford of the East’. One has been the dissociation of a prestigious institute from the varsity; the other has been a recent alteration in the IAS examination pattern. More crucially— experts say — the trouble has come from a 2011 introduction of an aptitude test that made English an important component of the examination, given that AU had alienated that language from its campus.
LOSING A LEGACY?
There were decades not long ago when students used to flock to AU to study political science, economics, history, and other subjects. Those days, the university consistently produced bureaucrats who went on to rise up the ranks. Such as AN Haksar (principal secretary to PM Indira Gandhi), Nripendra Misra (principal secretary to PM Narendra Modi), NC Saxena (former Planning Commission member) and Vikas Swarup (external affairs ministry spokesperson).
In fact, till 2010, AU maintained a dominant position in the field.
Eight years before that, the varsity saw Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT) dissociating from it — and becoming independent. The 1961-founded institute had been contributing to AU’s civil-services credit in a big way, and managed to keep its position intact among top 50 academic institutions producing IAS officers.
The latest annual report of UPSC on various aspects of civil services examination till 2014-15 shows a total of 16 MNNIT students having qualified for the interview round of civil services examination in 2013, while 10 managed to make the final cut. As a result, the institute stood 31st in the list of 57 higher-education institutions whose students cleared the civil services.
In 2012, as many as 19 MNNIT students made it to the interview round and 10 of them cleared. A whopping 76 MNNIT students faced the interview board in 2011, when 11 emerged successful.
MNNIT secured the 23rd rank among the country’s top 50 higher educational institutions in 2012, while in 2011 it climbed up to 16th rank.
According to UPSC report, technical institutes in Allahabad are not only making their place in top 50 institutions, but are also continuously beating AU.
In 2013, Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad, saw five out of nine students tasting success.
The civil services examination-2013 had students of 210 higher education institutions making it to the interview round and those of 57 making the final cut.
ENGLISH TO BLAME?
AU lost its edge in 2011 with the introduction of civil services aptitude test (CSAT). Experts and aspirants blame CSAT for the slide, as English became an important component of the examination. That made the task difficult for AU students.
Former civil servants say sidelining English fuelled the slide.
Ex-bureaucrat Badal Chatterjee winds back to note that English was, till 1968, a compulsory subject in BA, and all AU students had to clear the paper to get a degree. “In 1966, a violent anti-English movement began on the campus. Students set fire to a petrol tanker and a power sub-station on November 5 that year,” he says.
“In 1968, varsity authorities removed English from the list of compulsory papers. With their focus away from English, AU students started stumbling in civil services examination,” says Chatterjee, a 1980-batch PCS officer who retired as an IAS officer in February 2015. He completed MA (1975) and LLB (1999) from AU.
Prof Yogeshwar Tiwari of AU says the students failed to adapt to the changed pattern of civil services examination. In civil services (preliminary) examination of 2010, UPSC changed the nature of questions from fact-based to analytical.
“Even the question papers of humanities were made analytical,” points out Tiwari, who teaches medieval and modern history. “This led to a drop in the number of students taking the examination in Hindi medium from 42.2% to 35.4%.”
Since the proportion of candidates passing the preliminary examination for different subjects was by and large maintained, it did not become a bone of contention, he adds.
“In 2011, the number of candidates writing the examination in Hindi medium dropped drastically,” points out Tiwari. “Since 2011, CSAT has also been evolving in the form of changing ratios of questions from different test areas. AU students have failed to grasp this. They are concentrating on traditional subjects like general studies in which they are scoring well, but are losing out in CSAT.”