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Wednesday, Jul 17, 2019

Students can now pursue humanities alongside engineering degrees

The walls are finally down. A look at how the AICTE‘s approval for technical institutes to also run arts and commerce courses is set to play out on the ground.

education Updated: Mar 06, 2019 19:46 IST
Dipanjan Sinha
Dipanjan Sinha
Hindustan Times
(HT Illustration: Shrikrishna Patkar)

A computer engineer who’s also studying psychology, a mechanical engineer with a grounding in accountancy, or humanities with a side of statistics — engineering colleges are finally starting to see the big picture. Keeping pace with the demands of the market, they are now increasing stress on knowledge beyond the selected field.

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) recently granted approval for these institutes to run humanities, arts and commerce courses alongside engineering. This decision was taken, explains AICTE chairman Anil Sahasrabudhe, because demand for engineering has remained more or less constant in recent years while the number of engineering colleges and the scale of their infrastructure have both grown significantly.

“This resulted in many private colleges shutting down courses. The infrastructure remained unused. This step was taken to make these institutions economically viable,” Sahasrabudhe says.

Apart from the economic concerns, the decision was also spurred by a changing job scenario and growing demand for a wider set of skills from all professionals.

Many technical institutes are now thinking along these interdisciplinary lines. Some, like the Bannari Amman Institute of Technology in Coimbatore, and the Thadomal Shahani Engineering College in Mumbai, which already have humanities courses, are deliberating starting full-scale MA and MSc programmes.

“We still have a long way to go, but we would be interested in starting courses and programmes in economics, history and sociology. We already conduct a few sessions or students in campus on history and economics,” says GT Thampi, principal of Thadomal Shahani Engineering College.

Today, we need cross-disciplinary education in all fields, adds the AICTE chief. “An engineering graduate needs to be able to study accountancy, psychology or even philosophy. If their college already has programmes in these subjects and faculty teaching them, then at least some students from technical streams can opt for these as electives. In this way their width of knowledge and employability improves.”

The same applies for students in general courses, Sahasrabudhe adds. Why shouldn’t a BMM student study statistics, or a Science student dabble in sociology?

EARLY CROSSOVERS

This approach has been in play at institutions like the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani and at multiple Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs. IIT-Madras offers MA programmes in English and Development Studies. BITS offers an integrated MSc in Development Studies and Media & Communication. Many IITs also offer PhD courses in economics, literature, linguistics, philosophy, policy, psychology and sociology. Students in these institutions are also free to opt for a multi-disciplinary approach and handpick courses across streams.

“We had humanities and language studies since inception in 1964. But in 2012, we revised our structure and more weightage was given to the humanities. It is now compulsory for all engineering students to pick three compulsory courses (modules) from the humanities too. This is aside from regular courses like technical communication,” says Sangeeta Sharma, associate professor with the department of humanities at BITS Pilani.

At BITS Pilani, students can also take courses in streams they are interested in and get a minor in those subjects. “So a mechanical engineering student can get a minor in media and communication,” Sharma says.

She adds that, though the courses were started to help students develop an understanding of society, it wasn’t long before they realised that the skills they were picking up were making them more employable and more attractive to employers too.

PERMEABLE BORDERS

The cross courses and the exchange of ideas help everyone. “Development studies students from IITs are known for their analytical skills and their ability do comprehensive research, which makes them suitable for multiple jobs — from analytics to economic consultancy,” says Umakant Dash, head of the humanities and social sciences department at IIT-Madras.

He adds that he hopes to see more technical engineering institutes offer degrees in general streams after the AICTE nod. “We will definitely see more engineering colleges offer humanities courses even if not MA or BA programmes,” he says.

At BITS Pilani, there’s already been a step forward, in the form of a creative thinking course. “We discuss concepts like lateral thinking,” says associate professor Sharma. “We are also planning a Masters course in social science. We want our students to have well-rounded skills.”

The proverbial wall has been brought down, Sahasrabudhe agrees. “Earlier, there was this strange idea that even if an institute offered, say, architecture and engineering, there had to be a boundary wall between the two. That is now over. We need no boundary walls between streams.”

First Published: Mar 06, 2019 19:46 IST

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