While the debate over the age limit and screening process for recruiting civil servants in India rages on, it is interesting to note the specific conditions for entry into the civil service in many other countries. While some require degrees or educational courses for various levels of employment, there are also additional requirements such as linguistic competence, enjoyment of civil rights, military obligations, specific age limits etc, according to a paper by the European Parliament on recruitment and equal opportunities systems.
Till some years ago, almost all member states of the European Union had lower and upper age limits for entry to the civil service. However, in the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Sweden and Portugal there are no upper age limits. In Belgium and Ireland the upper age limit is 50 years; in Germany it is 32 years for the probationary period and 50 years for definitive recruitment; in Austria it is 40 years; in Greece it varies between 30 and 35 years according to category, and in Spain and France the upper age limit varies according to the competition. In the United Kingdom there is no upper age limit. In some states, ministers or departments can make exceptions to the age limits.
Applicants could also have gained work experience in the public or private sector in the member state in which they are applying or in other member states. In Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, work experience is of great importance, given the absence of minimal legal requirements relating to the educational qualifications required at each level.
In Ireland and the United Kingdom, experience gained in both the civil service and the private sector is taken into account when appointments are made. In almost all member states, work experience acquired in the civil service is used as a criterion for selecting staff. There is no formal competitive exam procedure in the Netherlands. The German civil service does not have a centralised competitive exam system. Recruitment is organised autonomously by each authority. For the UK civil services, recruitment is based on a decentralised procedure and according to merit. Recruitment practices are based on open competition and job vacancies are advertised. Previous OECD reports suggest that the age of entry is rising in these countries’ civil services as often, the civil services offered new recruits long-term career prospects as compared to the private sector.
Shailaja Chandra, former chief secretary, Delhi government, says “Every country has its own recruitment system for the civil services and they are conceived of and are conducive to the requirements of that country. We are a very young population and we do not have much of lateral entry. Many of the developed countries go in for lateral entry. We say we have it but it’s more on paper than in fact. Only a handful of people are taken in through lateral entry and they don’t join the services but occupy certain posts only. Many countries do have an entrance exam. For instance in the UK, a lot of the induction at the cabinet secretary’s level is done by a group of people that selects people after screening their CVs, through interviews and considering their academic and related performance.
They proactively look for look for better qualifications or experience. In France also, candidates are taken in at a young age.
“Everywhere, merit is a prime consideration and making it available to all to have a chance is important, but that does not mean you water down the level of screening. Like many other countries, we are also seeking to find a high level of merit among the selected candidates,” she says. The present system of a written exam, says Chandra, may not be necessary in other smaller countries because they have much smaller populations and the number of people they induct is small. “We have a huge civil service and inducting 200-300 in the services, after over 2000 are called for the interview from tens of thousands who appeared for the written exam. The present system is as tight and as well-thought out as it should be,” she says.