Why the world needs Liberal Studies graduates
Taking a trans-disciplinary approach to education, UPES launched the School of Liberal Studies. The event was graced by renowned academicians who discussed the need for Liberal Studies, the developing disconnect and lack of perspective among the tech-ahead students, elite decision-making, the real purpose of education, and more…
Global problems such as climate change, polarisation, immigration, and food security, are multi-layered, complex, and long-term. Holistic addressing of these issues requires a combination of technology to provide a technical fix and the insights of liberal studies to bring in a cultural, political, social, and human perspective.
Therefore, different disciplines, which were traditionally siloed, need to work together for creating multifarious solutions. Taking a trans-disciplinary approach to education, UPES launched the School of Liberal Studies (SoLS). The launch of SoLS was graced by renowned academicians namely:
- Dr. Shubhashis Gangopadhyay, Dean, School of Liberal Studies, UPES
- Robert Lensink, Professor, Faculty of Economics and Business, Groningen University
- Nawtej Dosanjh, President & CEO, MirraU, a start-up university in Florida, USA
- Dipankar Gupta, Retd Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, JNU
- Nandini Chatterjee Singh, Cognitive neuroscientist and currently Senior Project Officer at UNESCO MGIEP
- Narayanan Srinivasan, Professor and Head, Department of Cognitive Science, IIT Kanpur
- Sanjay Mitra, Professor of Practice, School of Public Policy, IIT Delhi
- Vijay Mahajan, CEO, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, and Director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi
- Sugata Marjit, Distinguished Professor, IIFT, and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta, and an eminent economist
UPES Vice-Chancellor Dr. Sunil Rai, in his keynote address, called the start of School of Liberal Studies “a momentous day in the history of UPES, the ‘University of Tomorrow’.” He stated that the new school will prepare students to make a difference in society. He congratulated the Dean for designing the programs through which students will be sensitised to the real issues and would therefore contribute to nation-building.
Dr. Gangopadhyay welcomed the panellists, who are also members of the school’s Advisory Board. He appreciated their support and enthusiasm in building the school. The panel discussion that followed discussed the need for Liberal Studies in the 21st century, the developing disconnect among tech-ahead students, elite decision-making, and the real purpose of education. Excerpts:
Dr. Gangopadhyay: Do you feel that there is a need to change our approach in designing our curriculum for our students?
Sugata Marjit: We have entered a digital phase in education, which is different from what we were used to for a considerable length of time. In a way, we are in a different world. Therefore, the curriculum, the way we want to take the students forward, how we update and upgrade ourselves, must be carefully thought out.
One lacuna that I often found in the standardised, classically-oriented syllabus, particularly for the Liberal Studies program, was that students are usually unaware of their surroundings, i.e., the social neighbourhood. This is because the local, national, and regional knowledge seems to be far removed from the curriculum, outside the formal modes of training and teaching.
Eventually, that does not help. There are brilliant students who do not have the right perception of the problems they encounter. However, training and teaching can make them better equipped.
I think this is part the problem of the curriculum, which is not updated or is not innovative, and part the problem of the teachers.
Dr. Gangopadhyay: How would you respond to the disconnect that is developing among the students?
Sanjay Mitra: There is great faith in technocratic and digital solutions. That there is a number to everything makes people believe that it must be the correct solution. They do not realise that every such construct, every such technology, has an ideology backing it up, which may not be readily apparent.
Then, there is an inability to communicate well. Maybe earlier, people in the public policy arena were not that adept in digital areas, but they could think laterally. So, Liberal Studies will provide a certain leavening to the hard development that has taken place, especially when it comes to students who have entered public policy.
Dr. Gangopadhyay: What are the training and skills that the coming generation needs to solve citizen problems ?
Vijay Mahajan: I wish I was 15-16 years old today. Instead of joining IIT, I would have joined the School of Liberal Studies. I say this because when I was in the IIT, and this was in the 70s, there was a period when there was a discomfort with mainstream technology. We were beginning to ask questions about going beyond the technology fix. That’s how I came into the world of rural development.
When I went to the villages, I realised that technology is only a smart part of the solution. The problems are so complex and large that one needs an understanding of humanities and social sciences. That is why I went to the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) to learn about human behaviour. I found that any big change requires a deep understanding of the political economy, capital markets, policy-making process, and human behaviour.
Nations are usually ruled by the elite. We need to educate our elites more ‘liberally’ so that they can truly serve the nation.
Dr. Gangopadhyay: How does the elite decision-making in societies work?
Professor Dipankar Gupta: We have been led to believe that citizenship and democracy are simple. Everybody has the right to vote so everybody is a citizen. That rendition is wrong.
Citizenship is difficult, and it needs elite leaders to spearhead this process. Why doesn’t it come naturally? Because it is anti-prejudice. Fighting prejudices is the basic principle of citizenship. In other words, what citizenship first and foremost guarantees is an equality of status at base upon which you can build an equality of structures. For that equality of status at base, you need education and health for everybody at the same level.
Now, for that to happen, you need to have leaders who are extraordinarily far-sighted.
Nothing that happened in citizenship happened on its own. There were leaders at every step of the way – from adult franchise to suffrage to abolition of child labour to pension scheme, for gay rights and lesbian rights – all of these are actually leadership-led. And only rarely do we have leaders of this calibre, who can take citizenship forward. So, citizenship is like a delicate plant. It has to be nurtured carefully.
Dr. Gangopadhyay: A UNESCO program states that learners need to identify and navigate emotions, practise mindful engagement, and exhibit pro-social behaviour for human flourishing towards a peaceful and sustainable planet. How do you think we can integrate these approaches in the curriculum?
Nandini Singh: Education was primarily designed to build human capital, and that is the approach we have continued to use. It is now time to think of education as a means to build skills so that individuals can become the best versions of themselves, can flourish, and ultimately be happy. And at the core of being happy is building good relationships. That’s where the whole notion of social and emotional learning comes in.
To build that into the curriculum, we know now that there are certain practices. For instance, a teacher in the classroom needs to periodically pause so that students can introspect to see whether they are in a state where they are ready to receive learning or are distracted.
How do you ensure that the content you are discussing in the classroom is multisensory in nature? It should not just be speaking or writing on the board, but also engage the senses.
Dr. Gangopadhyay: How can School of Liberal Studies be a global player in training young minds to move us towards a just and sustainable society?
Nawtej Dosanjh: Being a global player in this specific context is going to require transformation. There are three parts to this: the curriculum becoming more innovative; actual delivery of the education through augmented and virtual reality, along with face-to-face classrooms, so that we can deliver education to absolutely everybody; and the governance of education itself to manage and lead institutions in the right direction.
Dr. Gangopadhyay: We need human capitalists who are firmly established in their fields and yet can work with others, who are equally established in their respective fields, to solve a problem. What enables field experts to work together?
Narayanan Srinivasan: It is hard for various reasons, but mainly because people do not know much about other domains. It is our shared interest in solving a problem that makes it possible for us to come together. The other thing is the curiosity to learn. We also need to know the strengths and weaknesses of our respective disciplines. I hope SoLS will provide a broad platform so that learners can appreciate other disciplines as well.
On the importance of Liberal Studies, Robert Lensink said that students should explore a wide variety of fields before majoring in one. He said, “Liberal Studies, is in my view, is broad and interdisciplinary, comprising multiple academic disciplines, including humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. A degree in Liberal Studies will offer numerous career options and help students to become well-rounded communicators with excellent problem-solving skills.”
He added, “We all know that the world around is changing fast and so are the jobs and skills that the market demands. Young generation, therefore, will no longer start work in one place and work there till the end of their careers. Jobs now require people to continuously upgrade their technical skills, critical thinking and take swift decisions with little or no information. So being able to respond fast to the changing environment is becoming essential. A degree in Liberal Studies could help students in continuous learning, critical thinking, creative problem-solving and decision making.”
Liberal Studies in UPES is not confined to Humanities and Social Sciences. The school, driven by ‘Emancipated Thoughts, Unshackled Learning’, offers students an eclectic mix of programs – B.Sc. Economics with Data Science, B.Sc. Applied Mathematics & Statistics, B.Sc. Psychology & Behaviour, B.Sc. Politics, Economics & Society, and B.A. Literature. These can be combined with multiple options of Electives, Minors, Signature and Life Skills courses, making it a unique learning experience for the learners.
The emphasis shall be on experiential learning through application of theoretical knowledge in solving real-world problems.