The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the setting up of the National Recruitment Agency (NRA) for holding a Common Eligibility Test (CET) for non-gazetted posts in government and public sector banks.
Government sources told Moneycontrol that the CET will replace thousands of preliminary-level tests for 1,25,000 government jobs.
Once implemented, the CET will be the largest recruitment examination for government jobs in the world. Right now, Railways-related jobs attract the maximum applicants of close to 15 million each year, and is the highest globally.
“The idea is to reduce multiple levels of testing and save costs. Candidates will also benefit since there will be only one common test for all jobs,” said an official.
In a statement, the Cabinet said that, at present, candidates seeking government jobs have to appear for separate examinations conducted by multiple recruiting agencies. The CET will be a single online test and will cut down travel time. It allows candidates to appear only once and to apply to any or all positions.
Non-gazetted roles do not give those recruited the right to use government stamp for official purposes. Some of them include Group B or Class II roles in government offices, including junior administration staff, assistant section officers, junior engineers, senior pharmacists, head clerk, GST tax assistants and stenographers.
Though the government did not indicate how one CET would be applicable for jobs of various departments, sources indicated that after the CET, individual departments and ministries will decide on the modalities of recruitment, including interviews.
How will it work?
The CET will be held twice a year. There will be different CETs for graduate level, 12th pass level and 10th pass level to facilitate recruitment to vacancies at various levels.
It will be held in 1,000 centres across India in a bid to remove the urban bias. There will be an examination centre in every district. There will be a special thrust on creating examination infrastructure in 117 aspirational districts.
It will be conducted in 12 major Indian languages. So far, these examinations were only conducted in English and Hindi.
Once the exam is over, scores will be valid for three years. This ensures that if the candidate cannot join in a particular year for some family emergency or medical reasons, he/she will have two more years to join.
To begin with, CET will cover recruitments made by the three agencies -- Staff Selection Commission, Railway Recruitment Board and the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection. This will be expanded in a phased manner.
There shall be no restriction on the number of attempts, subject to the upper age limit.
What could be the challenges?
Considering that 25 million candidates will appear for these tests across the country in an online exam, the first step would be to have a technology partner.
India has 739 districts. So, there will be as many examination centres. It is also likely that, for larger districts like Kutch, Jaisalmer, Anantapur or Pune, there could be more than one test centre.
Aditya Narayan Mishra, CEO of CIEL HR Services, said that there are different kind of government jobs and that the CET has to be thought through to ensure that there are no glitches.
“The demand is not the same for government jobs and it could be as diverse from teaching to health to water management. We will have to look at how the tests are designed. It is a Herculean task and calls for coordination between several state governments,” said Mishra.
If one goes by the government idea to have one preliminary exam for all posts, platforms specialising in government jobs are keen to know what will be the nature of the test.
The Vice-President at an online education portal focusing on government jobs told Moneycontrol that, right now, the CET looks to be tough to implement.
“The government departments themselves may not agree to have one common test. If you look at it practically, how can a candidate give the same exam for entry into say a road engineer’s post, constable’s role and translator’ s position? How can a single test capture the drastically different aptitude needs of these roles?” he added.
Sources told Moneycontrol that, if required, for some positions, additional testing/assessment will be done. However, industry experts are of the view that the purpose of a common test will then be defeated.
“At the face of it, it looks like CET will only complicate matters because the job requirements across government positions are drastically different. If a candidate writing CET will have to write another series of tests for a specific vacancy, why have CET in the first place?” said Pune-based education consultant Shobha Thakur.
A lot of details are still awaited by education and human resource experts on how the NRA will deal with the sheer number of candidates.
Rituparna Chakraborty, cofounder and Executive Vice-President, TeamLease Services, told Moneycontrol that, as an idea, CET is elegant but added that details about the execution will need to be watched out.
“CET will require the highest levels of transparency and governance. We will have to see what its acceptance among government circles would be, its capability, the technology infrastructure and how scalable it is,” she added.
The government has said that for rural candidates, there will be a process to familiarise them with the online examination system. A helpline is expected to be set up to address candidates’ queries.
How will this benefit students?
The first advantage is that a CET will remove the hassle of applying for multiple examinations throughout the year.
Instead of a candidate applying to the Staff Selection Commission or the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection for thousands of different jobs and paying a few hundred rupees as fees each time he/she appears for an exam, now there will be one single CET.
The government itself is estimated to save Rs 600 crore by having a single CET. As far as students are concerned, HR experts said that those vying for a government job typically sit for about seven tests a year.
Considering that each test costs Rs 650, on an average, a candidate can save Rs 3,990 by appearing for just a single test. Add to this, the travel costs for up to three exams a year of Rs 2,000 each and a candidate can save Rs 6,000 alone.
If there are additional assessment/aptitude tests, the costs will go up.
Secondly, a common complaint of government job aspirants is that there is no single body handling the exams for all vacant positions. For instance, the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection looks into jobs for public sector banks while the Staff Selection Commission looks at recruitment for vacant roles in government departments and ministries.
Now, through CET, a candidate will only need to approach NRA to resolve queries related to any eligibility test. NRA will be responsible for deciding on the test module and conducting them throughout the country.
Government officials said that since transfers and reshuffling of officials within ministries and departments is common, a CET will ensure that a candidate has the basic knowledge about all sectors.
“With CET, a government employee will be able to fit into any role easier than before, since he/she will have the background knowledge,” said an official.
There will be mix of objective and descriptive questions to assess the candidate’s interest in working for the government and how the candidate will be involved in nation-building.
Thirdly, the biggest nightmare is the clash of exam dates. If two examinations for different posts were to be held the same day, candidates have to skip one. The CET will ensure that candidates do not need to worry about a clash of dates.
They will also be able to save costs on paying for mock test papers for each exam or enrolling into multiple coaching classes for various government exams.
The government has said that this will also quicken the process of recruitment into vacant roles since there will be one common test. It added in a statement that the CET will standardise the examination pattern.
Considering the logistics needed for the CET, sources said that the first test is likely to be held by the second half of 2021. The government will also engage with the various state governments to look at the ground-level preparations.
The exam duration and question type have to be decided. While there is a call to make basic objective-type questions common, the NRA has to ensure that the examination paper doesn’t get too lengthy.
Also, the NRA will be working with the various government departments, ministries and statutory bodies to find a standardised test pattern that takes into account the needs of each role. This, according to employment consultants, will be the biggest challenge, considering the drastic difference in skill sets in each job role.