When Rhea Gandhi finished class 10 with 91%, she found herself being discouraged from pursuing Humanities. But Gandhi stood her ground. Today, the 19-year-old is a first-year Psychology student at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College.
Gandhi had the support of her parents, and the company of lakhs of students across India who are scripting a new trend, and defying the old mindset that high-scorers should only opt for Science or Commerce courses.
Colleges, especially in metros, are witnessing a surge in demand for Humanities courses such as English, History, Psychology and Political Science after years of declining interest. This comes at a time when several industries are warning that the country needs to focus on soft skills as much as on technical training to propel its economy.
“We filled up three times the number of Humanities seats this year as compared to the past,” says father Fraser Mascarenhas, principal of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College.
Kolkata’s Presidency University is flooded with applications for BA courses. Asutosh College, also in Kolkata, has had to increase BA seats by 15% to meet the rising demand.
Delhi’s St Stephen’s College has asked Delhi University (DU) to allow it to increase seats in Philosophy. Almost every other DU college is also witnessing an increase in demand for Humanities courses.
“The numbers have gone up,” says Kanika Khandelwal, media coordinator at Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College. “More students are Humanities as their first choice.”
The trend is a sharp shift from the declining popularity of Humanities from the late 1990s, when the IT boom gave science and engineering courses a gilded veneer that attracted more students — and parents — than ever before.
But less than two decades later, industry bodies like FICCI, CII and NASSCOM are routinely issuing reports about a majority of the country’s engineering graduates remaining unemployable, usually because of poor soft skills.
On the other hand, jobs in relatively nascent sectors are opening up for Humanities graduates. “Industries like media, growth of NGOs and respect for research have led to a demand for people with a social science background,” says Kamala Ganesh, sociology professor at Mumbai University.
Priyanka Kumar, who studied sociology in DU and now works with an international NGO as a project assistant, echoes that view: “I don’t think I would have been so socially aware had I studied commerce or engineering.
With an increasing acceptance of Humanities, students are getting better job opportunities.”
The trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by top education policy makers. “There’s no denying that more students see their future with Humanities courses,” said UGC chairman Ved Prakash. “And I think that’s good for India.”