Did you know that CEOs Carly Fiorina (Hewlett Packard), Ken Chenault (American Express), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), and Andrea Jung, (Avon) were all liberal arts majors?
Public opinion about liberal arts in India has changed over the past decade with established programs from Ashoka University, OP Jindal Global University, and FLAME University turning the tide. Delhi University reported a rise in cut-offs for humanities courses such as English, History, and Political Science in June 2019, ascribing this to booming career options for liberal arts graduates.
The history of the liberal arts tradition lies in the “septem artes liberals” in Ancient Rome, making it the oldest organized education program in the West. The Socratic method of seeking intellectual freedom through philosophia (love for truth) and eschewing authority through debate is a concept that still lingers in liberal arts.
However, successful careers and illustrious history aside, do we really need liberal arts education in India, or is it yet another newfangled, imported trend where we are trying to imitate the West?
A 2019 survey by Aspiring Minds noted that 80% of Indian engineers are unemployable and lack new-age skills. The main factor listed was a dearth of cognitive and linguistic competency. How can we leverage liberal arts education to address these stark deficiencies?
Educators and students alike can focus on some enduring principles guiding liberal arts education which bridge the employability gap.
A liberal arts graduate has the breadth of knowledge, stemming from the study of a wide range of subjects that are purposefully selected—thus, a student can opt for a major in mathematics and a minor in music. This broad base of knowledge helps liberal arts students understand a wide variety of topics, frame diverse types of arguments, and escape a narrow outlook.
A combination of logical, analytical, and creative thought through coursework helps liberal arts graduates develop the discipline for identifying the main issues, approaching problems from a multiplicity of perspectives, coming to logical and sound conclusions, and recognizing and proposing solutions.
A liberal arts graduate can see connections. This has a direct correlation with real-life situations that call for complex thinking, as these graduates are able to integrate various experiences, value interdependency, and work productively with people from different cultures and backgrounds.
Liberal arts education provides training in disciplined thinking and extensive practice in writing and speaking. This prepares graduates to communicate ideas and information clearly, persuasively, and creatively, and to adapt their communication style to business needs.
Learn, unlearn, and relearn is the new workplace motto for a future-ready mindset. Liberal arts graduates tend to be more open to new information, more flexible in adding to their knowledge base and more adept at learning over a lifetime rather than just in the classroom.
Along with making graduates employable, liberal arts education is truly “useful” in a multiplicity of ways: producing an employee capable of reasoned reflection and effective response, a team player who can embrace diversity, a globally minded professional who bridges gaps and thinks analytically to deliver solutions.
It is no surprise that MBA students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business are taking classes where they read novels or look at artworks in an effort to integrate empathy, relationship management, and self-awareness into future leaders.
Note: An earlier version of this article was published in Career Links.
Featured Image Source: British Museum