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‘Need well-rounded professionals’ — why IITs, IIMs & IIITs are giving humanities a new thrust

IITs, IIITs, IIMs are giving unprecedented thrust to social sciences & humanities. Focus is on producing 'well-rounded professionals' instead of churning out just plain graduates.

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New Delhi: It’s no longer enough to churn out graduates who know their engineering equations, software programmes, or management theories, but to produce ‘well-rounded professionals’ with a deep understanding of society, economics, polity, history, and more — so seems to be the growing consensus among top technical and professional institutes across India.

Over the last few years, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs), and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have picked up humanities and the liberal arts in a big way, whether by offering new degree programmes, expanding the range of elective courses on offer, or starting transdisciplinary initiatives.

For instance, this month IIT-Jodhpur inaugurated its Centre of Excellence on Arts and Digital Immersion, which will reportedly “explore the intersection of art and digital technology”. Earlier this year, IIT-Guwahati launched a Master’s programme in liberal arts. IIT-Madras will offer a Master’s degree in economics, English, and development studies from 2023. IIM-Bangalore, too, plans to offer a four-year undergraduate program in liberal arts from next year.

Demand from students for a multi-disciplinary education and from the industry to have more “well-informed” professionals has fuelled the trend, experts who spoke to ThePrint said.

What has also provided an impetus is the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which calls for technical training to be interwoven with “opportunities to engage deeply with other disciplines”, with the aim of eventually “enhancing the employability of the youth”.

While IITs have been offering courses in humanities like economics, philosophy and English since their inception, and are now ramping up their offerings, the IIITs and IIMs are fairly new on the block. Across the board, these institutes are focusing on hiring professors with degrees from high-ranking international and Indian universities.

“The IITs always had humanities — they have had some of the best philosophy and sociology departments. But now IIITs and some other institutes are also including social sciences and humanities in their curriculum in a major way,” said Nishad Patnaik, who did his PhD from the New School for Social Research in New York and currently teaches philosophy at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Delhi.

Also Read: IITs to offer medicine courses? Draft UGC rules call for phasing out domain-specific institutes

‘Life skills’, ‘multidisciplinary competencies’

If technical courses equip students with necessary domain knowledge, humanities courses make them aware global citizens, according to Farhat Naz, head of IIT-Jodhpur’s School of Liberal Arts, which this year started a Master’s programme in computational social sciences.

“Humanities courses not only teach students life skills but also make them think beyond their curriculum to contemplate about human selfhood, literature and culture, citizenship, rights, and politics,” Naz told ThePrint.

At IIT Roorkee, the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities, which was mainly offering elective and core courses to undergraduate and postgraduate students, started a two-year Master’s programme in economics in 2016, with focus on financial economics, public policy, and development economics.

In 2021, the institute also started a five-year BS-MS programme in economics, with a four-year exit option leading to a Bachelor’s degree. “The goal of the programme is to develop well-rounded professionals capable of applied economic analysis (theory and practice), sound decision-making, and inter- and multidisciplinary competencies — mathematics, computing, entrepreneurial, and managerial,” Department of Humanities and Social Sciences head Anindya Jayanta Mishra said.

IIT-Madras, which already offers Master’s programmes in English and development studies, is set to start offering an MA in Economics from the 2023-24 academic year, said Jyotirmaya Tripathy, head of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences.

All IITs also offer elective courses in the humanities, for which students get academic credits. Usually, undergraduate students at IITs do three electives from humanities in a year, from subjects like anthropology, sociology, linguistics, literature, history, politics, philosophy, economics, and public policy.

Disciplines should ‘speak to each other’

Unlike the IITs, the IIITs are relatively new to offering degree programmes in the social sciences and humanities.

Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology-Delhi, for example, established its Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2017, with the aim of producing “well-rounded engineers”. Its offerings include an interdisciplinary B. Tech programme in computer sciences and social sciences.

“The idea is to have engineers who are able to come up with solutions that matter to people on the ground and have an understanding of society and societal issues, and not just engineering,” said Paro Mishra, a faculty member at IIIT-Delhi’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences.

She added the humanities department is thriving, with 14 full-time faculty members and students who are pursuing PhDs in subjects like economics, sociology, and cognitive psychology, among others.

“Interest in humanities courses has increased in recent years, because even the industry demands people who understand real-life challenges, can communicate with people, and are more well-rounded,” she said.

In 2019, the International Institute of Information Technology in Hyderabad started a five-year dual degree programme incorporating a B. Tech in computer science and an MSc in computing and human sciences by research.

“The Human Sciences Research Group in IIIT Hyderabad is a unique attempt to bring together the social sciences and computer sciences. We believe that understanding the nature of transformations brought to the fore by digital technologies requires the two disciplines to speak to each other,” says the department’s website.

Aniket Alam, associate professor at Human Sciences Research Group, said that all institutes of higher learning, not just technical ones, had “realised the importance of taking liberal arts more seriously”.

“Earlier, institutes would offer humanities as one of the credit courses but now they have realised the true potential of it. Many of them have started offering full-time programmes,” he said.

Real-world management

The latest entrants on the block are the Indian Institutes of Management, with IIM-Kozhikode starting an MBA in liberal studies and management in 2019.

The web page for the course says says that the degree was launched because there is “a dire need for an alternative form of management education” since the “scientific method of teaching and learning alone is not sufficient for preparing future managers”.

It notes that management education has traditionally drawn heavily from scientific methods of fact-finding in controlled environments, but in the real world, business is often done in environments “in which judgments are made with messy, incomplete, and incoherent data”.

Giving details of the new programme, IIM-K director Debashis Chatterjee said that the idea was “to nurture the finest management thinkers” and to develop “innovative, socially responsible and environmentally friendly practitioners, leaders and educators” who could hold their own on the global stage.

In 2020, IIM-Bangalore announced that it will start offering a four-year undergraduate program in liberal arts from 2023 to create a “new generation of leaders” who would be able to apply “multiple perspectives” to solving thorny problems in India.

Faculty selection 

When it comes to faculty selection, the IITs, IIITs, and IIMs are gunning for the cream of the crop, with several hires boasting Oxbridge or Ivy League degrees. Many faculty members are also from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as it has a robust social sciences and humanities offering.

Regarding the faculty for the liberal arts programme at IIM-K, Chatterjee said current faculty members were drawn from reputed American and Indian universities. The names he cited included Indiana University Bloomington, IIM-Calcutta, JNU,  Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.

Or the IITs and IIMs, which are public institutes, the criteria for selection include government-set norms for academic qualifications and number of publications.

Faculty members who have either done their PhD abroad or taught in foreign universities believe that Indian institutes are finally catching up to a global trend.

Patnaik from IIIT-Delhi, who has also taught in New York, noted that US colleges approach humanities as a stream in a “organised and professional” manner, which is now finally picking up in India. “Institutes here have realised the importance of teaching humanities,” he added.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also Read: MNC jobs, fat salaries — after IITs, IIMs, lesser-known pvt colleges are acing placement game



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