The move to offer inter-disciplinary electives has students excited

Though the Indian education sector woke up late to the merits of offering inter-disciplinary electives to students, this fairly new trend is seeing many eager takers. What stand out is that students are as excited to learn as the teachers are to teach and most importantly, the industry is ready to welcome multi-faceted individuals with open arms. While it is large universities with adequate faculty that can offer electives in the true sense, colleges with fewer teachers with the required know-how are also following the popular path. And this is mainly because the student population seems more aware than ever about its needs.

Better late than never

Students and professors alike believe that the move to offer inter-disciplinary electives has come too late to the country. Shalini Pal, who conducts Urban Café, a discussion forum among students and young professions under the Indian Institute of Human Settlements banner, says, “The way our colleges have embraced this concept is very ad hoc.” Hinting at a lack of research before planning such programmes, she adds, “I don’t think we have yet figured out how the various industries will respond. A section of the market is still very rigid and looks for a more focussed skill-set among students.” At the same time, from her interactions with professionals who attend IIHS’ inter-disciplinary courses for working professionals, she has found that such an approach is very much welcomed by professionals.

According to Aishwarya Chandar, a final-year student of engineering at BMS College of Engineering, the industry has now grown out of its traditional approach and both colleges and the corporate sector are open to the idea of students equipping themselves with a variety of skills.

Sachin Tantry, HoD, Department of Journalism, Jain University, believes that as a teacher from the time when there was no option to try out something different, he is more than keen on making these options available to his students. “When a science or commerce student is given the opportunity to study a media course for a semester or the other way round, students get a sneak-peak into other streams which may make their education a lot more holistic,” he says, adding that electives also allow students to find out what they may really wish to make a career. “Students are often forced to take up certain subjects because of parental pressure, while they may actually have a passion for something different. It also comes in handy for students who are confused about what they wish to do,” he adds.

Prof. Tantry is quick to also warn students. “But just taking up a mish-mash of courses may not work out well in the industry. With the electives, students must make a better portfolio for themselves. Let’s say, a student of journalism is keen on joining the radio industry, he/she can opt for radio production as an elective over something like photography which is surely a value-addition but not necessarily needed in the radio industry. Similarly, a media student with keen interest in joining a newspaper can beef up his resume with a photography course.”

A sellable profile

The need of the hour is to produce an employable product. In this endeavour, students and teachers are doing all they can to mould student profiles such that they can be absorbed into diverse industries. Having just sat through a series of placement interviews, Aishwarya says, “Some companies very much prefer a varied skill-set. It is true that many companies work in a niche sector and want to train us students accordingly, but a diverse profile is encouraged nonetheless. Our adaptability is seen as a great plus point.”

Neha Reddy, another final year student of BMS College of Engineering, says, “I believe that all subjects are somehow connected and the one semester that we study a particular elective gives us enough knowledge to understand the basics and pursue it further if we are truly charmed by the subject. I, for example, am a student of computer science and took up financial management as an elective. Now I am sure, even though I am nowhere close to someone who has a degree in financial management, I can write a programme to help a professional organise his files and ledgers.”

Challenge for teachers

As a fairly new trend, offering new courses to students has come up as a challenge for teachers. Jain University started offering electives only a year ago, while BMS College did it five years ago. Ever since, teachers have been working towards improving their knowledge base to impart flawless knowledge to students. Prof. Tantry says, “It is not possible for in-house faculty to do justice while offering these specialised courses. It is far more efficient if guest lecturers are invited to deliver the course.”

Nagabhushan B.S., Professor, BMS College of Engineering, reveals that teachers of the college regularly attend faculty development programmes and interact with the industry to understand the needs of the industry and upgrade themselves accordingly. “We also brainstorm with students to find out what they look forward to in the course. Students these days know what they need; therefore they are more than serious and excited about the elective courses. Such courses are the order of the day,” he says.