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New age course

As cut-offs for Humanities courses soar each year, students of this stream are not short of choices, whether they want to join a traditional Arts course or a new-age Liberal Arts one

New age course

Raring to go: Humanities courses arm one with the knowledge of the human mind, behaviour and mechanics of society, preparing students to excel in any field

Somak Ray Chaudhury

The long-term objective of formal primary and secondary education is to equip the students with a set of basic skills which will be useful all through life irrespective of the career they might choose subsequently. A concern that often emerges, in discussions about the state of higher education in our country, is that it does not provide essential skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and practical application of knowledge, consequently affecting the growth and employability of the students. Although there are several factors that contribute to such outcomes, one key factor is the lack of emphasis on a multidisciplinary approach to learning.

As our world becomes increasingly complex, with rapid changes in the technological and social environment, it is essential that we move beyond vintage forms of education, which were designed for a particular context, and embrace a wider-ranging paradigm of learning that encourages a holistic approach to education.

The idea of Liberal Arts is not a recent phenomenon. Learning in ancient India focused on teaching a range of kalaas (arts) such as astronomy, rhetoric, logic, geometry, painting or music. In the top British universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, even in the 17th century, the traditional subjects for undergraduates were the classics, grammar and rhetoric, logic and moral philosophy along with specialised subjects such as astronomy, geometry and natural philosophy for more advanced students.

The division of learning into strictly defined disciplines is rather a modern development. When the demands for specialist engineers or business managers arose during the Industrial Revolution, universities began responding by laying emphasis on degrees in singular domains. This led to the flourishing of specialised domains, and of leaders who became excellent in the execution of tasks related to their respective fields. However, over time it was observed that such an approach has severe limitations.

Take the example of a task like product design for an Internet application, which not only requires the skill of developing software but also an understanding of the needs and socio-economic profile of customers, user experience, communications, visual aesthetics, etc.

The advent of the era of increased Internet proliferation, and the acceptance of digitised personal data, as well as introduction of powerful artificial intelligence tools like GPT4, have further led to a situation where traditional job roles as we know are about to go through a shift of paradigm.

Need for ‘integrative thinking minds’

A Liberal Arts course is most suited to build an integrative approach to deal with the present day challenges. However, such learning does not involve acquiring knowledge of different subjects in bits and pieces, but having an ability to integrate elements of different fields to solve a complex problem.

This also does not mean that specialisation as such become totally irrelevant. Instead, a domain expert is able to integrate a broad range of ideas in the assessment, decision and solution-making process.

A good Liberal Arts institution opens an opportunity for students to pursue education in a subject such as economics, along with providing opportunities for attaining foundational knowledge about a variety of fields, as contrasting as biology or computer science.

Further, it lays emphasis on interdisciplinary thinking, through targeted life-skill development as well as exposure to co-curricular activities. It takes into account the learning pace and interests of the students, providing flexibility in terms of selection of courses that are being offered. This encourages self-guided learning.

In India, the ecosystem of liberal arts is rapidly developing, enabled by favorable and forward-looking policy environment, such as through the NEP. Opportunities are increasing in both the private and public spheres. Parents and students are also embracing this holistic approach to education. These are positive developments, that would eventually help us in transforming the existing traditional education systems, and skill young minds in a manner that is truly tailored for the 21st century.

Knowledge of many arts

Liberal Arts education focuses on providing foundational knowledge to a student in a range of subjects, as diverse as literature, biochemistry or economics, irrespective of their chosen focus area. In a remarkable development, the new National Education Policy (NEP 2020), explicitly acknowledges the merit of such a system, stating that the notion of “knowledge of many arts” or “liberal arts” must be brought back to Indian education, as “it is exactly the kind of education needed for 21st century.”

A degree that works

  • Communication, journalism, literature & writing, languages, philosophy, history, music, fashion designing, film and animation are some of the fields to study within a broad umbrella of Liberal Arts and humanities.
  • Liberal Arts and Science is not about choosing, it is a multi-disciplinary course where there is an amalgamation of arts and science like anthropology, economics, geography, political science, and sociology or pure sciences. A majority of these courses require at least a Plus II or bachelor’s degree.

Ashoka University, Sonepat

Estd: 2014

The university focuses on providing a liberal education at par with the best in the world with emphasis on foundational knowledge, thorough academic research. At UG level the university requires each student to take all of its 12 Foundation Courses, though in no specific order.

PG Govt College for Girls, Sec 42, Chandigarh

Estd: 1982

The college has been ranked 151 in NIRF-2022. It aims to impart holistic education to young women from all strata of society and facilitate them to develop as intellectually mature, morally upright, socially responsible and spiritually inspired women leaders.

Institute of Social Science Education and Research (ISSER), Panjab University, Chandigarh

Estd: 2015

The Integrated five- year Honours programme provides foundational knowledge in geography, history, economics etc, along with an introduction to main concepts in psychology, philosophy and natural sciences.

St Bede’s, Shimla

Estd: 1904

Only college in Himachal Pradesh to be accredited ‘A plus’ Grade by UGC NAAC and is in the select band of 19 prestigious colleges which have been accredited “heritage status” by UGC. The college has successfully implemented RUSA and Choice Based Credit Based System (CBCS), introduced by Himachal Pradesh University.

World University of Design, Sonepat

Estd: 2018

Offers cutting edge, trans-disciplinary programmes in the creative domains of Fashion, Design, Communication, Art, Architecture, Media, Management and Humanities.

Admission criteria: Admission to various UG & PG degree programmes is through World University of Design's Aptitude Test. WUDAT 2023 is an online examination of 2.5 hours duration and will be held on May 20, 2023. The last date to apply is May 18, 2023

Region scan

Government College for Girls, Chandigarh

Estd: 1965

DAV College, Sector 10, Chandigarh

Estd: 1958

MCM DAV College for Women, Chandigarh

Estd: 1968

Government College for Girls, Ludhiana

Estd: 1943

Chitkara University, Rajpura

Estd: 2010

BBK DAV College for Women, Amritsar

Estd: 1967

Government Rajindra College, Bathinda

Estd: 1940

Mahadevi Kanya Pathshala (PG) College, Shimla

Estd: 1902

Govt College of Art, Chandigarh

Estd: 1951

NID, Kurukshetra

Estd: 2016

NIRF 2022 Top Ten

  • Miranda House 1
  • Hindu College, New Delhi 2
  • Presidency College, Chennai 3
  • Loyola College, Chennai 4
  • Lady Shri Ram College For Women, Delhi 5
  • PSGR Krishnammal College for Women, Coimbatore 6
  • Atma Ram Sanatan Dharm College, New Delhi 7
  • St. Xavier`s College, Kolkata 8
  • Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandir, Howrah 9
  • Kirori Mal College, New Delhi 10

The writer is Vice-Chancellor, Ashoka University

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