Young and waiting: India’s public examination and recruitment system is failing its youth (2022)

The 4,500 candidates in Andhra Pradesh, who cleared a district selection committee exam in 1998, have now finally been offered regular jobs as teaching staff in government schools. For many, it is a bittersweet victory — with 24 job-seeking years washed away as most of them reach close to retirement. The recruitment process for some government posts simply never ends.

At Jai Prakash University in Patna, students have had a painful wait to graduate, with some taking over six years, exams and results being delayed for various reasons (shortage of teaching staff, salary delays, protests, Covid-19, etc.). The consequence — a derailment of ambitions. Hundreds of thousands of Indian students languish in such universities, living on in rented accommodation, with dwindling savings, awaiting a chance for their programme to wrap up. Of Bihar’s 17 public universities, 16 saw academic sessions delayed in the last few years. Consequently, such students miss out on applications for government jobs — some have even seen their younger siblings graduate earlier than them. About 2-3 years of career loss has become routine. Clearly, such universities profit from continuing unemployment.

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Such exam-related delays have become routine at higher educational institutions. The JEE Mains 2022 exam has already seen a few months’ delay over this year. Magadh University’s students protested in May 2022 after repeated delays in conducting exams. Even in private colleges and universities, such delays are common — for final-year students in various universities, delays in conducting exams can have deleterious consequences. For some, delays in graduation may mean the cancellation of placement offers.

Profit-seeking doesn’t stop here. Getting assistance to help prepare for recruitment exams can be an expensive affair. Costs for such tuitions can vary — from Rs 1,000 to Rs 4,000 for minor posts, to Rs 1.5-2.5 lakh for UPSC coaching (excluding living costs). Even registering for exams has a cost — the J&K State Services Board (SSB) collected Rs 77 crore from March 2016 till September 2020 from unemployed youth, while still making them wait for examinations and consequent jobs. The Indian Railways collected Rs 864 crore for RRB-NTPC and Group-D examinations (2019) from approximately 2.41 lakh applications. By the time a candidate turns up at an exam, they are typically out of pocket.

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And then such exams get delayed. For railway job aspirants, it has been a long wait since the Group D notification was issued in 2019 for 1.3 lakh posts. For one crore applicants, it was a wait of over 1,000 days for exams to be conducted. Railway exams have perhaps seen more delays than the Railway itself. In Thiruvananthapuram, in June, about 700 army aspirants protested outside the Raj Bhavan against delays in conducting the army recruitment exams (postponed six times already since Apr 2021). For 2,000 citizens who had passed physical and medical examinations, it has been a long wait. Some of them are now over 23, making it their first and last attempt (unless age-related recruitment policy changes are made). With the recruitment cycle for the Staff Selection Commission delayed due to Covid, many aspirants have also gone over the age limit and been denied a relaxation (in age cap) or an extra attempt. In Karnataka, where the state government was looking to recruit again (2,60,000 vacancies) after a gap of two years, the recruitment process has been delayed as the government awaits the report of the Administrative Reforms Commission-2 (ARC-2), which may lead to the abolishment of some jobs.

Even when exams are done, the results may be delayed. In Tamil Nadu, the Teacher Recruitment Board conducted PG-TRB exams in February, after issuing a notification in September 2021 for 2,207 vacancies. Results are now expected only by July end.

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Once exam results are published, an aspirant cannot be sure of getting a firm job. Take the case of SSC GD 2018 aspirants — there were over 1,00,000 vacancies in CAPF (as of September 2020), mostly at the grade of a constable. For SSC GD 2018, 52 lakh aspirants applied for the exam and 60,210 jobs were offered. Now, despite continuing vacancies, the SSC GD 2021 was conducted for just 25,271 posts — for those, the remaining 4,295 candidates from SSC GD 2018 who have already qualified for the exam were not given an offer. Such aspirants have now crossed the age limit. They continue to walk on foot from Nagpur to Delhi, ignoring blisters on their feet, to seek what is rightfully theirs — an honest job to maintain law and order.

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Solving this requires structural reforms. First, we need to reform the examination process — this should include a waiver of examination fees, removing a barrier for candidates from economically challenging backgrounds. We cannot run a profit-generation scheme at the expense of our youth. Additionally, policies need to be enacted to ensure that an examination centre is within a specified distance (say 50 km) from a candidate’s base location, failing which the candidate shall be eligible for pre-defined compensation to meet travel and lodging expenses. Online-based examinations should be conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA) — all examination centres must have basic infrastructure (biometric attendance, cloakroom, basic fans & lighting) and adequate security (guards, invigilators, CCTV cameras) to ensure a fair process. An integrated examination calendar for all major educational institutions and recruitment to PSUs should be published while ensuring minimal overlap.

To support government recruitment, each ministry, under the central or state government, should request various departments to prepare and submit the list of existing vacancies within three days from a defined zero date. Each department should prepare this list within 10 days. The departments should ideally advertise the approved list of existing vacancies within seven days of the approval of such a list (or 25 days from zero date). For each week of delay beyond 30 days from the zero date, the defaulting department could be liable for a small reduction in their administrative expenses. Final examination results should be announced within a defined period. In the event of cancellation of examinations, compensatory attempts shall be provided to all applicants by relaxing age norms.

Of India’s billion people (above the age of 15), only 430-450 million are available in the labour force, with 30-40 million of these unable to find jobs. Only 390 million actually had jobs in June 2022, as per CMIE data, with 8 million jobs cut in rural India given a sluggish monsoon, on top of a further 2.5 million reduction in salaried jobs. All this means that India’s employment rate was 35.8 per cent in June 2022.

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India needs to create 20 million jobs annually — a far cry from the status quo. We need a national conversation on urban unemployment. We need to face the challenge of job creation and upskilling of youth for the labour market to ensure that India’s demographic dividend does not become a demographic disaster. Mere rhetoric will no longer be enough.

The writer is a BJP Lok Sabha MP

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