India needs public policy education

Public administration should be a compulsory paper for the UPSC exam

Updated - March 30, 2023 01:19 am IST

Published - March 30, 2023 12:15 am IST

Government policies are pivotal in deciding the future of a country. Good public policies spur economic growth and public welfare and improve ease of living for citizens. However, there is little interest in public policy education in India. Only a small percentage of policymakers — civil service officers — are exposed to the formal study of public policy and public administration. In this context, this article carries a few suggestions which could boost public policy education in India. The phrase ‘public management’ is used to refer to both public policy and public administration.

The Indian bureaucracy has many talented people working at various levels. However, governance is still perceived to be lagging behind private sector management, in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. This is largely due to lack of training in public management. Over a span of 37 years in the civil service, I have observed that many policymakers are under-equipped to develop effective policies. Until the time I went to IIM Bangalore for public policy education, which was after 20 years of service, I was also an intuitive decision-maker. But institutional training in public policy changed the paradigm that I was following in my role.

Paucity of programmes

Most executive jobs in the organised sector are in government or government-owned agencies and require an understanding of public management. However, the supply of formal education in public management is inadequate as compared to business management education. As per data from the All-India Council for Technical Education, there are 3,182 institutions with an approved intake of 4.22 lakh in business management programmes, but only about 130 public, private and not-for-profit universities that offer public administration programmes and only 29 institutes that offer public policy programmes. Of these 29 institutions, 17 are private, four are semi-private, and eight are state-funded institutions. In general, the batch size of public policy courses is 20-60.

The reason why universities don’t have many programmes of public management is because there are few jobs available for people pursuing such courses. The private sector offers limited opportunities in government advisory roles, consulting and Corporate Social Responsibility. For public sector opportunities, students have to go through competitive exams. Therefore, neither educational institutes nor students find any incentive to prefer public management courses in place of technical or management courses that offer lucrative private sector opportunities.

Further, there are very few civil servants who have got exposure to public management before joining service. Most of them undergo the departmental induction training programme which is focused on the role that they play in their department. They do not learn much about how to make good public policies.

There are a few opportunities for in-service officers to study public management in India and abroad. As per the data available of the capacity-building commissions in the 10 years between 2012 and 2021, 194 civil service officers (including 86 from the IAS) went abroad to study public management at the Master’s level. Within the country, there are five institutions in which 194 civil service officers have been sponsored by the government for full-time public policy courses in the last three years. Contrast this with 1.3 lakh Group A officers in the Government of India today.

Three suggestions

Given this background, my first suggestion is that public management should be one of the compulsory subjects for the UPSC civil service examination. The introduction of a public management paper can either be a substitute for one optional subject or an additional paper. This will help in multiple ways. First, civil servants who join government would have formal education in public management before they enter service. Second, since about five lakh candidates appear for UPSC civil service every year and each one of them will need to prepare for the public policy paper, this creates an opportunity or incentive for universities and private institutions to offer the subject at the graduate or post-graduate level. Public policy education, research and case studies will get a major boost from this new demand. Third, even if only 10% of UPSC aspirants make it to various government jobs, including at the State level, others who studied this subject for the examination would develop better understanding and sensitivity towards complexities involved in public management, making them better citizens as well as effective private sector managers.

Some may wonder whether it is fair to make aspirants study public policy as a new subject. Yes, it is fair and this should not cause any difficulty. According to data of the last three years of UPSC aspirants, on average, 50% of the aspirants preferred an optional subject other than their graduation subject for the UPSC main exam. This indicates their willingness to learn whatever it takes to succeed in the exam.

The second suggestion is that existing training institutions of the government should have a larger component of public policy as part of induction training. Also, they should build up a case study bank for training.

Third, the government can create certain specialised positions of public policy analysts, to be picked up from the market directly, so that new job avenues for the graduates of public policy programmes can be created.

Hasmukh Adhia is former Finance Secretary, Government of India. Views are personal

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.