- Why would students seek to pursue liberal arts from the IITs? How would such programmes help them careerwise?
The liberal arts at IIT Bombay is a way for students to get a broad education while exploring and therefore developing their academic interests. Well rounded specialists outcompete narrow specialists to the top of firms; this lesson is repeated the world over in leading industries. For example, when Google identified what made its successful managers, technical skills were only one of ten attributes. Narrow specialists may find employment, but they will not rise to leadership positions or become innovators in their fields. As an IIT Bombay program, LASE aims to generate leaders and innovators not merely job seekers.
- Why was the need felt to launch Liberal arts programmes given the fact that the IITs are traditionally known for being technical institutes?
The question rests on a common misunderstanding of both the “liberal arts” and the IITs. It assumes that the “liberal arts” and “technical institutes” are somehow antithetical to each other.
But this is not the case. The liberal arts is simply an approach that combines a broad, holistic education with choice of branch. The “arts” in liberal arts does not mean humanities but a body of knowledge or form of practice that is essential for a free person (from the Latin liberalis, “worthy of a free person”). Indeed, this approach was recognised by the founders of the IITs as optimal for producing high quality engineers.
- Can admitted students take Minor courses in other departments even with the 5 course per semester limit?
Minor courses do not count towards the 5 courses limit. Students may take a maximum of SEVEN Minor courses during their program.
- Do I have to take the LASE course if I am admitted?
No, passing the exam and interview give you the option to take the LASE course during branch change. There is no compulsion.
- Will I get an “arts” degree?
No, you will get a B.S. Natural Sciences, B.S. Engineering Sciences, B.S. Social Sciences, or B.S. Art and Design depending on which concentration you choose. For custom concentrations named “X”, you will get a B.S. “X”.
- Isn’t B.S. inferior to a B.Tech?
The B.S. is much more globally recognised than the B.Tech degree which is offered only in a few countries. MIT, for example, does not offer a B.Tech.
- Do you think liberal arts education in India has undergone a paradigm shift more so due to NEP 2020?
It is very encouraging that the national policy is promoting aspects of the liberal arts approach. The NEP rightly highlights the importance of a “holistic and multidisciplinary education,” but more emphasis needs to be placed on exploration and choice of branch.
There remains a deeper cultural change required if our education system is going to meet our needs going forward. Anxious parents need to allow students to explore within limits. Without such exploration and discovery, the education system will never rise above a form of vocational training.
- When did the idea evolve to launch Liberal arts in the IITs, and how successful have the courses been?
We started talking internally in early 2018. A committee was formed and had many interactions with the faculty and students. The program was approved in mid-2021. We will have our first intake in Autumn 2022 so we can judge its success after that.
- What is the criteria for seeking enrolment in these programmes?
Currently, only those who have been admitted to the BTech/BS programs of IIT Bombay through the JEE can apply after their first year of common courses. Unlike a regular branch change, they have to give a further internal written exam and an interview to qualify for this course. Students assigned to any branch can apply.
- What kind of courses are on offer at your institute and how have students benefited from the programme/s careerwise? What are their course contents and teaching learning method?
All students have to take 5 “foundation courses” which cover key areas of contemporary knowledge from digital lives to history of science to analytical reading and writing. The incoming batch is small to begin with, 30 students, so they will have a lot of close guidance from faculty advisers which is unique at the undergraduate level. They will have integrative projects under close supervision each semester to bring together their learning from various fields. Students will be limited to taking only 5 courses per semester so they can explore subjects in depth rather than piling on more courses. By the end of their second year, if not sooner, they would have settled on their major field of study for specialisation. You may have a look at the course structure on our website: https://cle.iitb.ac.in/.
- Does it help to have liberal arts programmes in the IITs which in a way can also help the budding engineers if they want to switch to these programmes. Do they avail of such programmes in course of their engineering programmes?
The LASE program will run in parallel with the existing B.Tech which itself is always being reformed by the Institute. The existing B.Tech offers some room for students to get a broader education; the upcoming curriculum changes will offer more such opportunities. Students can only switch to the LASE program after the first year, else they can continue with their JEE assigned branch.
One of the specialisations of the LASE program is the Engineering Sciences wherein students can choose either to get a general feel for all engineering subjects or delve deeper into an engineering discipline of their choice. Something that is unique to the LASE program is that students can specialise in interdisciplinary fields, AI and Edtech or Healthcare Engineering, for example. This is true for the other branches of LASE as well, namely the Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Art and Design.
- How are the liberal arts programmes in the IITs different from that of the liberal arts universities?
Every university has its own strengths and weaknesses in various programs. But given the farsighted vision of the Sarkar Committee, IITs have from their inception had humanities and social sciences as well. Liberal arts universities will similarly have strong science if not engineering programs. Not that we should give too much importance to rankings, but the Times Higher Education 2018 World University Rankings named MIT the No. 2 university in the world for arts and humanities. Whatever our respective starting points, all universities in India will have to converge on a multidisciplinary model if we are to produce innovators and leaders in applied and research fields.