A liberal dose of the arts

IIT Madras’ M.A. programme exposes students to almost every sub-discipline of humanities

With the study of liberal arts picking up steam around the country, and the sheer variety of options open to those who pursue these disciplines, it pays to understand the nuances of IIT Madras’ flagship humanities programme, the integrated M.A. in Development Studies (DS) or English Studies (ES).

The current head of the department, Dr. Umakant Dash, has been with the department since 2004. Though the M.A. was initially conceptualised to prepare students for the Civil Services Examination (CSE) and careers in academic and policy research, it has also successfully sent students for higher studies abroad, to IIMs, consulting firms such as KPMG, investment banks, and NGOs. While other IITs at Kanpur, Kharagpur and Mumbai offer economics programmes, the entry-point for these is JEE. IIT-M is the only one to have a dedicated examination for their M.A. programme. Umakant says, “The moment you make students take the JEE, you’re restricting the programme to science students. Students from arts and commerce wouldn’t be eligible — there are lots of deserving students from these branches. We wanted to include any Class XII graduate, so we don’t miss out on good students, and can give them the best platform possible.”

Since its first year in 2007, the number of HSEE examinees has been steadily increasing, with coaching centres emerging for to prepare for this selective entrance test. According to Umakant, around 2,300 students wrote the exam last year — but only 46 students are selected for each intake. Ashraya Maria M.P., III, Development Studies urges, “It is good to read the papers every day and stay updated with what’s going on. If you have a strong base in English and mathematics, up to Class X, that helps.” Sannihit, V, Development Studies adds, “I strongly recommend reading the opinion and editorial columns in newspapers. Also, you need to have basic knowledge about almost any topic.”

One question that comes up repeatedly, is why economics isn’t offered as a separate major, as it once was, when the programme was first introduced a decade ago. Umakant fills in the gaps, “Our main goal when we started was to offer an inter-disciplinary programme; that’s why we decided to give more emphasis to DS. In any case, 50% of the courses are economics-based. Also, at that point of time, we had less number of faculty available for economics. So, it was temporarily halted as a major, though DS, ES and economics can still be taken as minors.”

However, with a curriculum restructuring on the horizon, work for potentially reintroducing economics as a major is under way. There has been significant demand for this major, and many queries from students, parents and alumni.


For engineering students with a penchant for the social sciences, the department offers about 30 courses that can be taken up as electives. Similarly, the M.A. students can take engineering courses such as sustainable development. They have the option of minoring in general management or operations management offered by the management department, besides their department’s own minors. IIT-M’s placement and internship cells cater to all of the institution’s students — whichever companies come to recruit the B. Tech students, also recruit the M.A. students, if the job scope fits.

What makes this programme different from the usual path of three years B.A. and a two-year M.A.? “If you take any university’s curriculum, you will see that in their postgraduate syllabi, they repeat all the courses done in the undergraduate years. They provide depth, but the breadth is about the same as the first degree. So here, by integrating the degrees, we try to avoid repetition of the courses, and offer better breadth. But it’s not the case that we neglect depth,” explains Umakant.

For the students, this proves invaluable. “This programme gives you exposure to a lot of different fields and perspectives, which you would miss out on if you were just concentrating on one discipline,” says Ashraya. Students study a variety of social science subjects during the first two years. They decide between ES and DS in their third semester, and are allotted majors according to their prior performance, as well as their personal preferences — the class is split into two, with 23 seats available for each. However, even in the third and fourth years, several of the two majors’ courses are the same, save about 12-15 core courses.

First-year students are assigned a faculty advisor who guides them throughout their five-year stay. Students can go to partner universities in Germany or Denmark for exchange in their third year. Though internships aren’t mandatory, almost all students complete around two or three during their time in the programme. For Avinaash R., III, Development Studies, the best part of the programme is interacting with the professors. “They are amazing individuals from very strong academic backgrounds, have in-depth knowledge and never fail to inspire you,” he says.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 8:16:48 PM |

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