Liberal education takes wing in India, draws students from ME
By Our Correspondent
A set of new universities in India is starting to deliver quality liberal education comparable with that offered by their peers in the west. Their competitive fee structure and proximity make them an attractive option for students from across the Middle East. The value proposition of such institutions was explained to us by Professor Pankaj Chandra, Vice Chancellor, Ahmedabad University. Chandra is the author of the book ‘Building Universities that Matter.’
No problem facing the society today can be solved by knowledge from a single discipline. The power of liberal education comes from the fact that it is fundamentally multi-disciplinary. Breaking existing disciplinary silos, liberal education makes it easy for students to understand and make connections across various sets of knowledge and skills. It ignites a spirit of curiosity, analytical thinking as well as verbal and written communication skills. Undergraduate students are free to draw up a programme of study comprising subjects drawn from the humanities, social sciences, sciences and even management and technology. In their second year, they can choose one discipline as a major and another as a minor. The idea is to give an opportunity to our students to discover their passion and what they are good at, said Chandra. Students can explore many subjects before they choose their major.
In-class discussions, field trips, presentations, movies and hands-on assignments are some of the ways in which students are exposed to multiple facets of learning. Several private universities in India, such as Ahmedabad University, now offer curricula that combine interdisciplinary study with essential skills. Chandra said, “Liberal education has the potential to prepare the youth for the real world. But for learning to happen, the entire teacher-student dialogue must focus on developing the ability to think and ask relevant questions that enable self-learning and then doing.” For students in the Middle East, Ahmedabad University could be a destination of choice. A private, non-profit institution established in 2009, it is one of the leading academic institutions in India that make a strong case for offering interdisciplinary studies.
Chandra said Ahmedabad University offers courses in a variety of disciplines, ranging from the languages to the life sciences, and including sciences and the humanities. “Asserting the centrality of the arts, sciences and humanities in a broad, fulfilling education and a diverse public sphere, the school aims to build a stimulating intellectual environment and enable our faculty and students to excel in their scholarship, develop new knowledge and build rewarding careers,” he said.
The university takes pride in a unique programme called ‘Independent Study Period’ (ISP), a concept designed to bring out a learner, a researcher and a thinker in a student. Students often have diverse passions but no means to explore them, especially if these are not related to their specialisation. ISP offers them a chance to explore their passion and go beyond the classroom, making their academic learning truly interdisciplinary and conceptual understanding more experiential. The courses cut across specialisations and are rooted in disciplines like Literature, Sociology, Design, Science, Technology, Heritage, Humanities & Languages. An often asked question is whether liberal education prepares students to address real world challenges and make a career as, say, a professional programme does. Chandra insisted that it does.
Liberal and inter-disciplinary programmes are fast becoming the key to skill the workforce of the future. Once you combine data science and AI with languages and economics, for instance, or with psychology and history then you are creating new pathways to global job opportunities in newer sectors of industry like art management and curation, digital media and publishing, consumer insight and market analytics, corporate archivists and many more. Universities need to play a huge role in making students future-ready. Acknowledging this, Ahmedabad University, in collaboration with the Rady School of Management at the University of California San Diego, has entered the executive education space with the launch of its Global MBA last year. The first specialisation offered is pharmaceutical management. It aims to enhance leadership skills and strategic decision-making as well as sharpen execution throughout the pharmaceutical value chain.