TCPD Columns

The Metric of Merit: Comparing the Sociological and Educational Backgrounds of IAS Officers and Rajya Sabha Members

Two of the three pillars of the Indian democratic structure- the legislative and executive- uphold different facets of the Government and hence differ in the expectations for their constituent members. While the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is famous for its arduous entrance process through an examination-based system, the Rajya Sabha is composed of elections by the state legislatures and nominations by the President. Does the emphasis on merit in the IAS lead to different compositions than in the electorally driven Rajya Sabha? Which demographics are championed or left behind in each body as a result of such a difference? Utilizing the TCPD-IAS and TCPD-RSD datasets, this column will explore how the two bodies are set apart in sociological and educational composition as a result of the different induction processes.

In terms of representation of women, both bodies show poor performances with less than 13% of all IAS officers and less than 10% of all Rajya Sabha members in history being women. Over time, the IAS does seem to be improving in its proportion of female officers, with the percentage of women allotted every year steadily increasing to nearly 30% in 2020 (Fig. 1). On the other hand, the election of women in the Rajya Sabha is much more erratic, dipping to 0% in several years, as recently as 2019 (Fig. 2). It is noteworthy that this dip to 0% occurs at almost regular intervals of around 10 years. Usually occurring after a few years of relatively high electoral rates for women, it is likely a result of complacency regarding female representation and a lack of a push to elect more women to the body. Since elections to the Rajya Sabha are based on more subjective and intangible criteria, it is likely that prejudice plays a role in this erratic representation compared to the IAS.

Figure 1Figure 2

The most interesting inferences are drawn regarding education. In both bodies, higher educational qualifications seem to be preferred. Although an undergraduate degree is adequate to appear for the UPSC examination, historically, post-graduate students seem to be more successful in securing a post, with 52% of all IAS officers having a post-graduate degree and 42% having a graduate degree (Fig. 3). However, over time, graduate degrees have begun to show greater success since around 1990 (Fig. 5). This is probably due to people with post-graduate and higher qualifications opting for careers that are more pertinent to their specific field due to the sunk cost, as college education has become more necessary and expensive. While there are no educational qualifications necessary for being a Rajya Sabha member, nearly 88% of all members have received some form of college education, pointing towards higher education being looked upon more favorably by the electorate (Fig. 4). Over time, the percentage of each qualification elected remains erratic due to the lack of such criteria for membership (Fig. 6). 

Figure 3Figure 4
Figure 5Figure 6

In terms of gender, there is no significant difference in the educational qualifications procured by both in the IAS, but women seem to be held to a higher standard of educational performance than men. There is a greater proportion of First Division degrees among the female officers (63%) than the males (44%), implying that the female applicants were expected to perform at a higher level in order to be chosen for the IAS (Fig. 7 and 8). The gender bias is probably due to the final interview which follows the UPSC Mains examination, which is necessarily subjective due to the personal prejudices and preferences of the panels. Although the selection is meant to be purely on the basis of the examination and the interview, the interviewers have access to the Detailed Application Form for each candidate, through which performance in college can be easily seen. No such data regarding the performance of Rajya Sabha members are available. 

Figure 7Figure 8

A significant difference between the composition of the IAS and the Rajya Sabha is the background fields of the members before joining the respective body. IAS officers show a predilection for more traditional and academically rigorous fields, with many studying Humanities (36%) or STEM subjects (27%) in college. Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha members prefer fields that are more practical and employment-oriented, such as social work (50%) or agriculture (30%) (Fig. 9). Since the UPSC examination requires in-depth knowledge from various fields, it is unsurprising that IAS officers choose to study relevant subjects in college. On the other hand, most Rajya Sabha members are engaged in careers before choosing to join the government, leading to more engagement in fields that are pertinent to administration, such as law or social work. 

Figure 9

Hence, the lack of a merit-based system of qualification in the Rajya Sabha seems to result in more subjectivity, bias, and poor representation of women. While the IAS performs better in this regard, it is clear that greater expectations are placed on female applicants. A stark difference is observed in the more qualitative matter of background fields, with IAS officers preferring subjects that help in the preparation for the UPSC examination and Rajya Sabha members engaging in more profession-based avenues. What is clear is that regardless of the formal educational requirements, higher education is preferred in both bodies. The difference in the induction processes serves as a metric for the expectations and functions of the executive and legislative, setting the two apart as distinct, yet complementary, institutions. It is disappointing to note that the “politicians” of the nation, within the Rajya Sabha, are held to lower qualitative standards than the bureaucrats, which in turn leads to skewed representation in the legislative. Invariably, more rigorous entrance processes would help combat biased compositions of political bodies.  

The following are the limitations of this study:

  • Data regarding educational qualifications is available for only 10,429 out of 13,316 IAS officers, and 1,940 out of 2,389 Rajya Sabha members. 
  • Data regarding background field is available for only 10,366 out of 13,316 IAS officers, and 892 out of 2,389 Rajya Sabha members.
  • Data regarding merit-based educational performance is available for only 10,431 out of 13,316 IAS officers, and is not available at all for Rajya Sabha members. 
  • Categorical data such as background field and merit-based performance required a lot of clean-up and processing due to errors in spelling and repetitions. 


  1. “TCPD Rajya Sabha Dataset (TCPD-RSD), 1952-2022 Codebook 1.30”, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University.
  2. “TCPD Indian Administrative Service Officers Dataset (TCPD-IAS), 1951-2020 Codebook 1.2”, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University. 


Mohan Rajagopal is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Economics at Ashoka University, and served as a Research Associate with the Trivedi Centre for Political Data. 


I would like to thank Maleeha Fatima, my supervisor at TCPD, for her help in ideating for my column and providing valuable insights and advice. 


This article belongs to the author(s) and is independent of the views of the Centre.