Recently, Dr. Pushkar (BITS, Goa) forwarded me this article in Washington Post.
"Meet the parents who wouldn't let their children study literature." An interesting observation in the article is that the number of students majoring in two subjects in US universities has increased tremendously in recent years. About 40 percent of students go for double major in their under-graduate programs in US. And the reason for this is not that the world is becoming more complex, requires multiple skills to solve problems, need more inter-disciplinary approach, etc. The reason is that parents (like in India) are impressing upon their wards to study STEM fields in larger numbers, and the students are not as interested. Their love and passion is in something else. So as a compromise between the wishes of their parents and their own interests, the students study double major - one major of parental choice, another of their own choice.
So, in this blog article, I am just thinking aloud of the possibilities in India.
In India, the parental pressure is huge. (Refer to an earlier blog article on this topic: Parents and JEE Counseling.) In most cases, they decide everything that their son or daughter should do - which exams to give, which college to join, which discipline to major in, etc. And there does not seem to be any hope of that changing in near or even distant future. Will double major option work in India. Will students prefer to study another subject.
There are several differences between the US system and the Indian system, of course. I believe that in the Indian system, the parental pressure starts much too early, and a fair number of students have been brain washed completely to believe that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are the only useful disciplines to study. So I am not sure there would be many interested in second major (except those who got admission in an unpopular discipline and can only study a popular discipline through the option of second major). Though some of the new universities like Ashoka are doing a remarkable job in making liberal education popular, and this resistance to anything other than STEM might change over the next few years.
The other major difference between the two systems is that in US, when a student joins a STEM major, a non-STEM major of high quality is available on the same campus, and one can take a few courses out of interest, and then decide to do even more courses to complete the second major, all on the same campus. In India, we have all but banished non-STEM disciplines from institutes offering degrees in STEM fields. There may be one or two non-STEM disciplines which may have sufficient offering to complete the second major.
Another big difference is that our graduation requirements for a degree are much higher than any US university. Our universities and institutes tend to believe that if you throw a large number of poor quality courses at the student, s/he will remember at least something out of them. With that kind of graduation requirement, the double major would invariably mean a 5-year program. Also with rigid structures like what course to do in which semester, planning a non-standard path becomes very difficult.
But, despite all these reasons, I believe that if we can start expanding our offerings, there will be demand for any high quality program. There will be enough 18-year olds even in India who may not be able to say no to their parents, but would be excited about studying what they like to study. And while the 18-year old may study two majors because of compulsion and interest, what one is likely to find at the end of those four years is that there is a significant demand for that combination in the job market. There is serious shortage of every expertise in India, and more so of people who know something about two or more disciplines.
At IIIT-Delhi, we are seriously considering having such programs available to our future students. As a small institute, focused on IT, we may not be able to offer several options, but we certainly want to offer a program which will allow students to get IT background as well as background in something else. The something else would have to be defined carefully. We are considering "Social Sciences" as that something else. We are also thinking of "Design" as that something else. We might in future consider "Finance/Economics" as yet another option. All such programs will be designed in a way that one can complete them in four years, and there is enough CS/IT content which is typically core discipline content in a good quality BTech program, and there is enough content from the second discipline which is typically core discipline content in a good quality BA/BSc program. We rolled out one such program this year (but both disciplines are STEM disciplines - CS and Applied Maths).
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