12 Feb 2018 19:32 IST

Myths and realities about the liberal arts

Communication in liberal arts

Conventional subjects such as science and IT are no longer preferred by employers

As awareness about liberal arts education in India gathers pace, so, unfortunately, do the myths surrounding it. This misinformation stems not so much from a lack of awareness but from love for the status quo in the form of a conventional education system, which is dominated by subjects such as science, commerce and information technology.

The most common myth is that, to succeed in the modern, globally competitive world, students need to have a degree in science, engineering, technology or management. The belief is that a degree in any of these disciplines considerably advances the prospects of employability of the students concerned. However, an online survey conducted by HART Research Associates on behalf of the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that 93 per cent of employers preferred critical thinking and communication skills over the choice of major while hiring employees.

Advantage, liberal arts

Another widely-held belief is that a liberal arts education is primarily restricted to fine arts and humanities and excludes disciplines such as science, mathematics, technology and engineering. However, the reality is that it includes the study of mathematics and science. A survey conducted by the National Academy of Science found that 20 per cent of scientists selected into the academy over a two-year period came from liberal arts colleges. Here, the advantage that the liberal arts graduates have over the others is the ability to think across disciplines, which is not only a key skill for academic achievement but also professional excellence.

There is incomplete and inadequate awareness about liberal arts education in India which has led to the spread of ill-informed opinions. Prominent colleges and universities that currently impart a decent education in the liberal arts happen to be closer to the metros, which has lent ill-founded credence to the belief that it is for a select group of people in positions of privilege. The reality, however, is that most established liberal arts universities and colleges attract students from diverse backgrounds: social, cultural, economic and geographic.

Nagging questions

Finally, there are questions that nag students and parents as to the range and scope of the programme and the various career options available to students graduating from liberal arts institutions. There is this unfounded concern that a liberal arts degree culminating in a major of your choice will narrow your career option to related areas only.

On the contrary, a liberal arts graduate has a far wider range of options to pursue than his/her counterpart with a conventional degree. The diversity and range of skills that students sharpen in a liberal arts institution render them positively marketable in a variety of work settings, professions and endeavors.

It is also pertinent to mention that a liberal arts education equips students who wish to study further to make worthwhile and focused forays into newer avenues.

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