What’s the Hullabaloo about Liberal Arts?


This weeks article in ‘The Tribune’, helps deconstruct liberal arts in India and is targeted for high school students as they try to understand more about these courses and their benefits.


Sarah yawned as she finally closed her Mac. She was in the 11th grade and had been researching the liberal art courses in India. Feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the information she had gathered, she called her much elder sister Sanah for help. A management consultant at one of the Big 4 in New York, Sanah had a way of getting one to question the basics. She asked Sarah if she was clear herself on what she wanted from the rather expensive Liberal Arts undergraduate degree. This got Sarah thinking.

Next day over morning tea in the garden, Sarah shared her dilemma and the question that Sanah had asked. “My entire life, I don’t know why I have chosen a certain course. Truth be told, I just did whatever was convenient and arrived at it by eliminating the courses I did not want to do, rather than playing to my strengths. I am not sure now about these Liberal Art courses that I feel so tempted to apply to just because their presentations are so aspirational.”

Her dad was looking at her intently. “That’s are not entirely true. When you had a choice between Karate and Bharatanatyam, you chose Karate not because you were bad at Bharatanatyam, but because you were all kicked up for Karate. Why don’t you share with us what you have learnt so far?”

“Sure Dad, here’s what I have learnt so far.” Said Sara as she settled comfortably in the green garden chair.

1. What is Liberal Arts?

Liberal Arts degrees is a broad term for a degree which allows you freedom to pursue courses in arts, humanities and social sciences, and specialize as per one’s interest areas. Its central academic disciplines include philosophy, logic, linguistics, literature, history, political science, sociology, and psychology. Popular majors are English, Psychology, Communication, Mathematics and History.

The fundamental idea is that education should prepare you for a successful life. It is expected that students should learn to formulate effective arguments, communicate well and solve problems.

At the core, they aim to equip the student with 4 C’s: Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking (Source: Lindsey Randstrom, SNHU).

2. WHERE CAN WE PURSUE LIBERAL ART DEGREES IN INDIA?

In India, the pure Liberal Arts degrees are awarded in some of the newer universities. However, there are many honours courses available where students would have studied 3 subjects in the first 2 years. They are not as flexible as a Liberal Arts course. However, a student of say B.A. Geography Hons who has studied Geography, Economics and Political Science in Year 1 and 2, would not be wrong in saying that she has done a Liberal Arts course.

Pure Liberal Art courses allow for much higher degree of flexibility in choosing courses and then choosing a specialization tailored to your interests. While individual colleges and universities have different ways of packaging and structuring the course of your degree, the general structure is as follows: foundation or core courses, majors and minors, electives and co-curricular courses.

Institutes offering Liberal Arts courses in India:

  • Ashoka University, Haryana
  • FLAMES University, Pune
  • Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts, Pune
  • Azim Premji University, Bengaluru
  • Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar
  • Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, Sonipat
  • Thapar School of Liberal Arts, Patiala
  • School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv Nadar University, Gautam Buddha Nagar
  • Apeejay Stya University, Gurugram
  • NMIMS, Mumbai
  • Bennet University, Greater Noida
  • KREA University, Sricity (AP)
  • Post Graduate Programme in Liberal Management, IIM Kozhikode
  • School of Liberal Studies, Dr. BR Ambedkar University, Delhi
  • University Institute of Liberal Arts and Humanities, Chandigarh University

3. Future prospects

Liberal Arts courses are rather new in India. They fulfill an important gap in the Indian education system, which fails to make college graduates employable. Of course, the New Education Policy, 2020 will be addressing these gaps at the school level and will certainly give a boost to establishing more Liberal Arts institutes as Arts courses can now be blended with STEM courses.

Employability Skills Addressed by Liberal Arts courses:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication Skills
  • Learning to Explore and Research

Multinationals are increasingly seeking to engage with students who can apply themselves across domains. It does increase your confidence in dealing with diverse, global audiences and networking. A graduate in Liberal Arts can look forward to careers in marketing, banking, journalism, public relations, advertising, research, management, analytics, social work, instructional design etc. They also position you well for the UPSC examinations as the course gives exposure to all the major subjects covered in those examinations.

A 4-year undergraduate degree also helps students fulfill the 16-year education requirement of foreign universities for post graduate degrees, besides better equipping them for the rigours of a research-based curriculum. It will also help a student to pursue research in India, and in the long run help improve the standards of Indian Universities.

Though we don’t have longitudinal studies of students passing out available for Indian Liberal Arts courses, a recent US report by Georgetown University, shows that the ROI of liberal arts colleges rises to $918,000, which is nearly $200,000 higher than the median ROI of all colleges ($723,000).”

Having said this, even though fees for Indian Liberal Arts courses are lesser than those of global colleges, they are still very expensive. I am not sure if I can get the ROI immediately as the courses are still new. It looks like post graduation may have to be done because of lack of immediately remunerative employment options.

4. IN CONCLUSION

In conclusion, while there are many benefits of a Liberal Arts degree, I still need to evaluate if it is the right choice for me. Yes, the benefits of trying out various disciplines in a creative, thought provoking environment are many and I would be lying if I said, I wasn’t inclined towards this course.


Nimrata Kapoor, HR Advisor and Career Coach (www.nimtalkingtalent.com) 


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