Economics of civil service training

Published: August 10, 2017
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The writer is a public policy expert and an honorary Fellow of Consortium for Development Policy Research. He tweets at @hasaankhawar

The writer is a public policy expert and an honorary Fellow of Consortium for Development Policy Research. He tweets at @hasaankhawar

I have always wondered how much is spent on training civil servants in Pakistan. To find out, I ran some back-of-the-envelope calculations. The National School of Public Policy (NSPP) and its five subsidiary campuses of the National Institute of Management at Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta deliver in-service training to civil servants through Mid-career Management Course (MCMC), Senior Management Course (SMC) and National Management Course (NMC). These are pre-requisite for promotions from grade 18 to 19, 19 to 20 and 20 to 21.

I was astonished to find out that the government’s cost to deliver this three-tier in-service training programme is 5+ times more than that of the top most private university, which means that if the government outsources this training, it can save 82% of the cost. What is even more surprising is that even if the government outsources MCMC and SMC to a top most local private university and sends all officers of NMC to Singapore for equal duration training, it can still save 27% of the cost. Moreover, these calculations only included operational costs. If the money locked in the sprawling campuses, development expenditure, donor-financed assistance, routine salaries paid to these trainees during the training, etc, are taken into account the magnitude of savings could be manifold.

For analysis, the 2016-17 budget estimate of Rs578 million for NSPP and its five campuses was taken. The MCMC, SMC and NMC have duration of 14, 20 and 22 weeks, respectively, with roughly 500+, 300+ and 150+ trainees each year, across various locations. In addition to the government-allocated budget, NSPP charges each trainee a sum of Rs250,000, Rs350,000 or Rs550,000 for the three tiers, respectively, which is paid by the respective departments. These charges translate into a fee of Rs3,500 per day for MCMC and SMC and Rs5,000 for NMC. After adding the government budget and subtracting living expense, the tuition cost turns out to be a whopping Rs8,700 per day for each trainee.

This tuition cost was then compared with fees charged by LUMS, a leading private university, for its graduate programs and National University of Singapore for its Master in Public Policy programme. The tuition fee for LUMS translates into almost Rs1,600 per day while that of Singapore into Rs19,000+ per day (on the basis of 85 school days semester). The living cost of S$1,500 per month for Singapore was also taken into account.

The argument here is not that the government should essentially outsource all these trainings, instead the key takeaway is the low value for money vis-à-vis the quality of these trainings. The government is currently investing Rs700,000+ per MCMC trainee, Rs1+ million for SMC and Rs1.3+ million for NMC, besides international travel and other costs. But do the civil servants themselves feel that they are getting top-notch training?

Although there has been no survey, anecdotal evidence suggests that while civil servants place significant value on networking opportunity and the time to forget the workplace worries for a while, the technical content is mostly quite weak. There are no defined competencies with desired proficiency levels for various grades expected out of these trainings. Neither are these linked with job responsibilities. In UK civil service for instance, anyone who is qualified to take interviews must undergo an ‘unconscious bias training’. On the other hand, our three tiers instead seem to focus on building the broader socioeconomic or policy context, without delivering any core skills-based training in areas like complex procurement, interviewing biases, using data analytics, lean thinking, etc.

I have looked at many countries but failed to observe an example, where middle-level and senior civil servants are taken off from their jobs for months, paid full salaries and imparted training without a clear value proposition. The 70-20-10 is a globally accepted learning and development model, with 70% on-the-job training, 20% through coaching and personal networks and only 10% through formal training.

Three key questions define how such training should be delivered. Why do civil servants need training? To address challenges for which they are not equipped. When do they need it the most? When they are wrestling with such a challenge. Are all civil servants likely to face exactly the same challenges? Of course not!

This means that we need a model, which provides targeted demand-driven training, which should not keep civil servants away from their jobs for long and should be customised to take into account varying training needs of these officials. This is not as complex as it sounds. Singapore’s College of Civil Service manages a similar modular training programme, which has been a great success.

There is a need to replace the current outdated training regime with a smart modular training programme, where civil servants are required to complete certain number of modules, within a few years and they should have various options to choose from. The trainings that can be best delivered by the private sector should be outsourced, while a few core modules can be taught by a lean centre of learning, with much reduced cost. It might be a good idea to send civil servants abroad for some of the advanced specialised modules, if the local capacity is insufficient. Such in-service training programmes should be supplemented with scholarships for civil servants who want to improve their qualifications and pursue advanced degrees in public policy and other subjects.

Civil servants of the 21st century need concrete skills to manage complex challenges and face new imperatives. In order to ensure this, we need an overhauled system suiting modern needs.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2017.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • Shujat Ali
    Aug 10, 2017 - 11:53AM

    Well researched and boldly argued. However a deep economic calculus such as embodied in the standard cost benefit analysis is not much respected in the decision making corridors as it focuses narrowly on the efficiency imperative. Other objectives of a more subjective nature may be important considerations in keeping training confined to existing training institutions! Moreover four cohorts were sent to Harvard for five week long training. Any lessons from that intervention!Recommend

  • Muhammad Khan Ranjha
    Aug 10, 2017 - 11:51PM

    Sir very important issues are highlighted. I will suggest that the time spent by civil servants can utilized better by counting their module wise study hours towards some specialized qualifications through entering into agreements with good universities. It can include earning study hours by enrolling with relevant universities and sending civil servants there. This feature will thus also add value by sharing experiences with the corporate/private sector. I find our closed programs being taught in public sector academies devoid of essential context and bereft of market flavour. Earning some valuable and specialized degree especially in disciplines of Development, contract management, project managemnet etc will give boost to motivation of trainee officers, and will get better value for money spent..Recommend

  • Asad Syed
    Aug 14, 2017 - 3:37AM

    The writer has done wonderful work and put in good effort to share thought provoking analysis. Outsourcing training is a wonderful idea where govt could also save money and other resources. Recommend

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