Ben Iverson, Director of International Programmes & Enrolment, Augustana University, USA

Most people have preconceived notions about liberal arts. They fail to see, though, that a liberal arts education gives students transferable abilities they can employ throughout their lives. Comparatively speaking, students with a liberal arts education have more to contribute. A liberal arts education may change the game in today’s world because it equips students with the skills, they need to solve issues, think critically, cooperate, think creatively, and come up with unique ideas.

Higher Education Digest in a compelling discussion with Ben Iverson, Director of International Programmes & Enrolment at Augustana University, USA on the importance of Liberal Arts Education- today and in the future.

What skills can you learn and build upon while doing a basic course in liberal arts, which you feel are important for every youth today?

Liberal arts graduates spend time volunteering and emphasising civic responsibility, in contrast to other graduate and undergraduate programmes that concentrate on specific disciplines. Additionally, it helps students appreciate different cultures, engage in social interaction, and provide innovative solutions to societal problems.

Students who major in liberal arts develop abilities that are highly sought after and required by business, including good communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, analytical and observational skills, and excellent oral and written communication. These abilities will equip pupils for the workplace of the future and are particularly relevant in the rapidly advancing technological age. A World Economic Forum research titled ‘The Future of Jobs’ found that about 65% of primary school-aged youngsters will work in jobs that don’t even exist now. This indicates that students who choose to pursue a degree in the liberal arts are more likely to acquire the skills necessary for professions that have not yet been created.

Students with an arts degree are prepared not only for their first career but also for employment that will be developed in the future. What are the abilities that will enable them to endure in a world that is always changing. Here, the fundamental capacities for thought, creation, adaptation, and collaboration, must be infused in students.

The importance of liberal arts education and why Indian education needs it?

A liberal arts education is a method of education that helps pupils think critically and acquire a range of academic and intellectual skills. It is supported by an interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary methodology. Students who pursue a liberal arts education have more options, find their real calling, and widen their horizons. It offers a platform for learning how to link and integrate information and apply what is learned in actual situations.

Liberal arts foster creativity, critical thinking, effective communication, and a love of learning, in contrast to India’s traditional educational approach, which has somehow prioritised memorization and replication of material in the past.

The 2020 revision of India’s National Education Policy (NEP) outlined a roadmap for institutions to adopt a liberal arts, discussion-based, and discovery-based form of education. Therefore, the NEP 2020 promotes a multidisciplinary educational system that aids in the simultaneous development of the creative and analytical parts of the brain.

Experiential programmes or liberal arts for students- what will help them to grow better- please explain with examples.

The growing focus on interdisciplinary studies enhances learning by integrating many viewpoints and modes of knowing. In order to create a well-rounded person, a liberal arts education includes courses from the history, literature, math, science, and foreign language discipline spectrums. It is a methodology that may be used both inside and outside of the classroom and can be applied to any subject or circumstance. The use of a multidisciplinary approach promotes critical thinking by requiring you to think about a topic from a variety of angles. Your ability to perceive the big picture and offer thorough, contextually relevant solutions will improve because of this course.

You learn how to think and how to study/understand in a liberal arts education. You will acquire these two fundamental skills as a liberal arts student that will help you for the rest of your life.

How NEP’s focus on liberal arts could spur new opportunities for students?

Liberal education needs to be made accessible to everyone in a developing country like India, which would need careful planning and large investments that go much beyond what is now made in this area. A policy is only as effective as how it is implemented. Implementing the ambitious NEP plan across a heterogeneous assemblage of over 1,000 institutions, 50,000+ colleges, about 20 lakh professors, and 1 crore 10 lakh students, each enmeshed in old customs, is difficult for management specialists, let alone academic leadership.

The route has undoubtedly been specified by NEP. India has no choice but to accept it if it wants to grow into a prosperous country that can provide a good living for all its residents. Through liberal education, the future generation of leaders can be actively formed to be patriotic and willing to fight for the country’s advancement without compromising their right to express their own opinions.

From the perspectives of many stakeholders, liberal arts education seems to be a positive development: students desire it, the market needs it, society loves such people for their sensitivity, and the nation needs them as crucial participants in democracy and as a future leadership pipeline.

How does a schools’/university’s career counselling can emerge relevant to help the students understand importance of liberal arts education?

There is a difference between academic counselling and career counselling. Students at liberal arts universities have long access to both academic and career advice. However, career counselling often occurs near the end of a student’s degree, not earlier, when it may have helped them build a continuous progression of improvement in their academic and job readiness. There is a necessity to reconsider how the institutions’ structure and manage procedures like academic advising and career services, right from the school level.

Besides academic counselling is traditionally handled by faculty, whereas career advising is handled by staff. There is a clear gap between academic achievement and experiences and abilities that are useful to a profession because of this division of the two roles. A major barrier to assisting students in fusing academics and career realities during their college experience is the segmented nature of advising. Thus, institutions must work on these areas so that their role stay relevant towards the making of a student’s good future.

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