Emergence Of Humanities As Attractive Choice Of Major To Study Abroad

A grounding in humanities essentially implies readiness for more human-related matters.

Which are the most sought after universities in the world? Most likely you would cough up names like Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, etc. All of them have taken pride in being ‘liberal arts’ universities that have a focus on holistic, multi-disciplinary learning. Even the likes of MIT and Stanford, mostly known for their technical and business education, have created a strong arsenal of liberal arts programs. 

A look at admission statistics reveals an even more interesting picture. Even for the most technical engineering programs, and especially the most rigorous and sought after ones, there is a preponderant focus on non-technical skills - leadership, participation in community activities, commitment to a cause, and more importantly, interest in liberal-arts subjects. In fact, some schools, like MIT insist that of the two teacher recommendations that a student submits, one must be from a humanities teacher.

A grounding in humanities essentially implies readiness for more human-related matters. Also, it has long been realized that liberal arts education is the pinnacle of any educational endeavor. No wonder, then, that almost all the top universities of the world give such a strong emphasis to humanities. More so, in the context of the 4th industrial revolution and displacement of jobs induced by machines taking over repetitive tasks, there is a resurgence of humanities. 

Humanities, clearly become relevant in two contexts for education in abroad.

As additional subjects, along with core technical, STEM-based learning - The most popular programs in the most prestigious universities are multi-disciplinary ones. Even if a student pursues a purely technical major like Software or Engineering, he ends up taking a liberal-art minor or major. A whopping 90 per cent plus students who graduated in 2019 (of the top 50 universities in US) had some grounding in liberal arts subjects with at least 50 per cent having done a minor or a major in at least one such subject.

Stand-alone majors - Business majors have been popular for a long time. However, standalone humanities subjects such as Psychology, Design, Political Science, Economics, Literature, and Philosophy have gained traction over the last few years. Of the students that work with us, close to 50 per cent choose and work with non-technical majors. This number was a measly 10-15 per cent just 5 years back.

The moot question is why. To my mind, the answer is fairly simple and in many ways recognized in our traditional education ecosystem. Firstly, studying humanities subjects inculcate skills like critical thinking, creativity, and complex problem-solving. In the context of 21st century jobs, this becomes especially relevant as new-age jobs related to climate change, design of human-machine ecosystems, global businesses and transitions are rooted in an appreciation of connections across a variety of subjects, and a capability to underscore a unique underlying theme across these; a very human quality! While such jobs have not really taken off in India, an analysis of new job creation in US and Western Europe points to the importance of liberal arts education in the emerging job market.

This also implies that, as students, it is important for us to not follow a straight ‘all-science’ path to success. That is no longer valid! STEM is passe; it is also now recognized as STEAM, ‘A’ being Arts. The writing is on the wall - if we have to succeed in the jobs of the future, we need to broad-base our education and the best way to do it is through immersion in liberal-arts subjects.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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