Prof Madhu Bhalla, head, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, sheds light on this discipline.
What all does one read in East Asian Studies (EAS)? What are the different branches one can specialise in through any MA programme in this discipline?
The two-year (four-semester) Master’s in East Asian Studies is the only one of its kind in South Asia. In the first year, it is designed to provide students with a sound background in East Asian culture and civilisation, history, society and economy. In the second year, students are required to specialise in any one of the three East Asian countries, i.e., China, Japan and Korea. All students are required to learn one East Asian language (Chinese, Japanese or Korean).
What’s the purpose of such programmes? What does the Master’s programme in EAS focus on — the language/s of the region, politics/international relations, economies or culture? Can you tell us the proportion of each of these?
The purpose of the programme is to encourage sound academic training on East Asia and to equip a new generation with the tools to understand the transformations taking place in the region. Since India’s interaction with the region has grown significantly in the last decade or so, and will do so in the future, it is essential that we have a larger body of experts who can interpret trends and events in East Asia and in the various countries that make up the region, from the India perspective. We see the MA in EAS as providing the foundations for this expertise.
Who should go for a degree in EAS? In other words, which undergraduate degrees and career goals are most compatible with a Master’s or PhD in EAS?
The Master’s has been designed as a cross-disciplinary programme so that we accept applications from across the social sciences and humanities. Many of our students are recent undergraduates in history, political science, economics, sociology, literature and journalism. We also have a few students who have a degree in commerce and management. Clearly, EAS appeals to students who do not want to be tied to a single disciplinary framework but who are looking for a holistic grounding in an area.
What are the employment opportunities for students’ with a) a Master’s degree in EAS and b) an MPhil/PhD in EAS in India as well as abroad? Where are your MA and PhD alumni placed today (other than in academics and research)?
This year we have placed all our first batch of graduating students, who were seeking placements, in Delhi’s leading and reputable strategic and foreign policy think tanks. The response has been very encouraging since there are genuinely few graduates with any knowledge of East Asia available to research institutes at starting levels. We have also placed our first-year MA’s both this year and last year as interns in research positions in these institutes.
Our MPhil and PhD students are working in research and teaching positions in Delhi as well as in Shanti Niketan, Hyderabad, etc.
Many of our alumni are in the bureaucracy, in business in Japan, Korea and China, in the media, in Korean and Japanese multi-national companies (MNCs) stationed in India and in Japan as well as in Indian embassies in East Asia. Most of our language graduates find very lucrative positions in the travel and tourism industry and in the hotel industry as well as in the intelligence services and in East Asian MNCs and Indian businesses with East Asian interests.
Is there any potential for entrepreneurship in this area?
EAS graduates with an entrepreneurial bent can venture, after a few years’ experience working in business, as consultants for Indian companies looking to set up business in East Asia, as country risk analysts and, as many of our graduates have done, launch their outsourcing business for the region.
How competitive is the programme?
The programme has had a very good response from the start. We find that we can accommodate less than 20 per cent of the students who apply for the programme each year.