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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 34, New Delhi, August 8, 2020

The Tragedy of Being Overqualified for a Job | Mohammad Ashraf Khwaja

Friday 7 August 2020

by Mohammad Ashraf Khwaja

Imagine a hypothetical scenario: The UPSC declares all aspirants who have obtained education beyond graduation ineligible for the covetous Civil Service examination. Additionally, such a rule is given retrospective effect. How would our top bureaucrats react? For many of them might have Masters or Doctorate at the time of applying for Civil Service. Would that rule stand in judiciary? Would that be considered fair and productive for administering the political system? No. Such a scenario would look illogical, outlandish and invite public disapproval. However, in a ‘state of exception’ bordered on meek judicial scrutiny unemployed matriculates would be preferred over graduates and post-graduates. My allusion is towards the recently issued advertisement notice for Class IV positions in various government departments of J&K wherein the unemployed youth having graduation and above are declared ‘ineligible’ for the job. Because they are ‘over-qualified’. Bizarre!

The Jammu and Kashmir Services Selection Board on 26/06/2020 invited online applications from ‘eligible and experienced candidates’ for filling 8575 vacancies of Class IV. However, for the first time in the history of J&K’s recruitment process or may be in any civilized meritocratic and justice-driven society there are some illogical standards to determine eligibility. For Class IV jobs applicants whose qualifications exceed 12th class are declared ineligible ab initio. This is not just unfair and contrary to the objective of increasing deliverance quality of personnel but also smacks of insensitivity towards the highly qualified unemployed youth. Let’s presume that the incumbent dispensation is seriously trying to address the issue of educated unemployment. Will this crude criterion help in this endeavour? No. Because most of the 12th class pass-outs but undergraduate applicants (eligible candidates in this connection) are below the age of 20 and are currently doing graduation in various educational institutions of the country. They are in the middle of their educational pursuits and have no sense of urgency for the job. And unlike them, there are candidates who are in their mid or late 30s and have completed UG, PG, M.Ed, B.Ed or Doctorate Degrees and have since been waiting for this ‘employment package’. They are deprived of this opportunity to apply for their job. Reason of their ineligibility: they are overqualified. This whole idea of denying them Class IV job opportunity is bereft of fairness and fails to address the intended objectives for a variety of reasons.

First, if a Postgraduate or PhD is provided the opportunity of doing a Class IV job it would only increase productivity and efficiency of the Class IV workforce. Any meritocratic organization – public or private – would love to have competent workforce capable of multitasking and willing to work at lower wages. In a rotten public administration of ours where efficiency of public servants is abysmally low and corruption is rampant, highly educated people would have raised the level of efficiency even if at the lower rung of administrative hierarchy. Second, it would cater to the employment needs of those who are advanced in age, hopeless of future opportunities, and have toiled hard in order to obtain higher academic degrees. They are the people who ‘deserve’ and ‘need’ immediate attention and empathy of our executive-run government by any standard of justice and fairness. Third, denying ‘overqualified’ candidates the opportunity the government infringes upon their constitutionally guaranteed right to equal opportunity.

Moreover, the denial of opportunity for this pejorative class - ‘overqualified’- has the tendency to disincentivize the pursuits of higher education. Since higher qualification becomes the cause of ineligibility, people would prefer to stay happy with mediocre school education. Is this how our policy makers envision to incentivize higher education in J&K?

Some pertinent questions need to be asked. Is it that policy makers have assumed that Class IV job is below the dignity of a PhD or PG? If so, does it not lead to social stereotyping of Class IV job holders and make them social outcasts who are identified by their lack of higher education, on the one hand, and ‘overqualified’ elites are forced to put up with the privilege of unemployment, on the other. And who are entitled to decide the suitability of a job for a PhD holder who is about to get over-aged and thus become permanently ineligible for any government job in future? Isn’t the choice of a job highly personal decision of an individual where state has no mandate to intervene? Isn’t it the encroachment of personal space and individual liberty? Hasn’t the inviolability of this right been enshrined in Indian constitution and reaffirmed in multiple court judgments? If this is done in the name of common good, where lies the good of the ‘overqualified’?

Whosoever in the top echelons of bureaucracy is making this choice on behalf of a 36 year old postgraduate or PhD girl who wants to become financially independent by securing a government job before she decides to start a family, must rethink the crude sense of injustice this criterion carries. This unfair and illogical criterion would erode her pride and contentment in her higher educational credentials. She would instead regret her decision of having attained higher qualification in the first place.

Does it need the study of rocket science to guess that this policy breeds a sense of injustice among a vast section of highly educated youth and as such buttresses contempt for the state and its policies. Perhaps, this sense of injustice is sufficient for an ‘overqualified’ young man to feel disgruntled with the actions of state and resultantly resort to unconstitutional actions that challenge the legitimacy and fairness of the state institutions.

The moot point is that our top executive are pretending to represent the public good by taking upon themselves the task of making informed choices on behalf of the people. This is crude appropriation, pure and simple.

We are currently in a state of exception (in Carl Schmitt’s sense). Executive has assumed all powers (including legislative) and judiciary looks as feeble and conformist of executive as never before. The dilemma before the unfortunate category of ‘overqualified’ people is that they are left with no alternative but to beseech the same ‘sovereigns who decide on the exception’ i.e., the bureaucrats for a considerate and fair review of this unjust criterion. The policymakers at the helm can still make amends by rectifying this grave injustice before it takes a toll on merit, disregards desert, ignores need and consequently fuels alienation. Hope good sense prevails and the notification is amended for the sake of common good, including the good of ‘overqualified’. The sooner the better.


Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Khwaja has doctorate from Aligarh Muslim University.
Email:sahibkhawaja[at]; Twitter: @MAshrafKhwaja

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