Search This Blog

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Double Major in UG Programs

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).


Arun Shankar S said...

Sir, my comment is not related to this post per se. But, since you mentioned IIIT Delhi, I am tempted to ask this. Why doesn't IIIT Delhi consider recruiting faculty without PhDs and then let them pursue it part-time at reputed institutes ? I am an MTech Computer Science student at IIT Delhi with an inclination for teaching. I would also like to pursue a PhD. But I cannot afford to do it right away due to financial and other personal reasons. Why don't institutes like IIIT let able candidates from IITs with a PG become faculty and then pursue their PhD either at IIIT or at IITs part-time ? Will this not solve the faculty shortage problem to some extent ? I am not talking about the temporary tenure-track positions. They are temporary anyway, and so many students from reputed institutes are not interested in applying for them.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Arun, Because we are a research-led institute, which means that we expect our faculty to be deeply involved with research from day 1. Second, we do not consider PhD as a part-time program. You have to be a full-time PhD student at IIIT-Delhi. Third, to be a faculty at IIIT-Delhi, even a PhD from a good place is not good enough. It has to be an excellent PhD. Our requirements are tougher than an average IIT.

Kishore said...


BITS Pilani whose curriculum design & execution is assumed to be modeled on MIT USA, offers double majors since long in the STEM & non-STEM disciplines like an MSc in Maths, Chem, Phy, Bio & Economics coupled with a BE in one of the Engg streams..Your comments on the same..

Prashant said...

Interesting! Though Double Major might be a bit of a stretch for our universities to properly implement. I have always been amused by this trend of "reducing GPA" requirement to reduce load, when the key stress-causing issue is having too many compulsory courses which lead to a "give up" situation for someone who decides that path is not for him/her. reducing GPA/credit requirements is pointless, just provide more control on how the student can structure his transcript. I wrote something similar here.