‘The idea is to integrate liberal arts and design’: Vidyashilp University VC

Established in 2021, Vidyashilp University focuses on design but offers liberal arts education promoting interdisciplinary learning.

PG Babu, Vice Chancellor, Vidyashilp University ( Image : Vidyashilp University)PG Babu, Vice Chancellor, Vidyashilp University ( Image : Vidyashilp University)

Pritha Roy Choudhury | July 6, 2024 | 11:55 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Vidyashilp University, established in 2021 in Bengaluru with a special focus on design, offers a liberal arts programme that seeks to promote interdisciplinary learning, critical thinking and creativity. Vice-chancellor PG Babu spoke to Careers360 about how the university's liberal arts programme aims to nurture well-rounded individuals ready to address complex challenges with empathy. Presently functioning from a temporary campus, it will eventually move to the permanent campus coming up on Off Bellary Road.

What are the advantages of studying in a liberal arts programme?

Liberal arts education encompasses a wide range of subjects beyond just humanities. It not only includes humanities disciplines like philosophy, anthropology and political science but also science, law, and other domains. Students have the opportunity to explore diverse programmes rather than being confined to a single track. Liberal arts institutions encourage interdisciplinary learning, exposure to a variety of subjects, and flexibility to explore minor courses in different areas.

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Our university offers programmes in economics, psychology, computation and data science, legal studies, business and design. We also emphasise interdisciplinary research and collaboration.

So, you are offering a liberal arts programme together with design, apart from other subjects in your university. How does that work?

Yes, indeed. It might seem unusual at first glance. The idea is to integrate liberal arts and design rather than having them as separate entities or part of an engineering school.

Design, as a discipline, is grounded in theory as much as it is in practice. Areas such as visualisation theory and learning theory underpin design practices. While some design schools focus more on practical aspects such as product design, our emphasis is especially on communication design which balances theory and practice.

So, Vidyashilp offers communication design?

Correct. We offer a bachelor of design course with an emphasis on communication design.

What other subjects are included?

Within the liberal arts framework, we explore domains such as economics, psychology, and design. Additionally, students can choose minors in domains that encompass ethnography, anthropology, and other humanities disciplines.

Can students mix subjects from different streams, like biology with commerce or science with liberal arts?

Absolutely, we encourage interdisciplinary exploration. Some students switch from hardcore computer science to liberal arts because they find minors in liberal arts intriguing. Students with backgrounds in domains such as biology or commerce can also seamlessly integrate into our liberal arts programme.

Should a university offering a liberal arts programme be equipped with all streams — science, commerce, and humanities?

The choice depends on the university’s ethos and objectives. While established universities might offer a wide range of streams, newer ones like ours make conscious choices. We focus on creating strong interlinkages between select disciplines. This approach fosters interdisciplinary learning without overwhelming the university with too many departments.

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How is the curriculum designed?

Curriculum design involves inputs from external experts – around four to five external experts for each subject with different experiences in different cultural settings. We also have faculty members and industry professionals. Each programme has its board of studies and an overarching academic council ensures alignment with industry needs and academic standards. External experts provide invaluable perspectives and help scrutinise curriculum proposals.

How do students learn about the liberal arts programme at Vidyashilp?

We are a relatively new university, only two years since we were established, and the initial years are always challenging but there are a lot of opportunities as well. Also, a lot depends on what you (the university) are, what you have on the table, and how you are offering it to the students. Our ties with the academic community and to some extent our faculty, their background, and their achievements, help create awareness. Additionally, our focus on unique interdisciplinary programmes attracts students who seek diverse learning experiences. Direct interactions with schools and personalised guidance also play a crucial role in student outreach.

This integration aligns well with the ethos of a liberal arts school.

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How many seats are available for the liberal arts programme currently?

We currently accommodate 190 students across various cohorts. As we transition to our permanent campus. which is coming up at Off Bellary Road, north Bangalore, this capacity will increase, with a projected target of around 120 students per programme.

What is the teacher-student ratio?

Currently, we have around 27 faculty members for 190 students, maintaining a healthy teacher-student ratio. Since we have small class sizes and a good teacher-student ratio, it helps us to nurture well-rounded individuals ready to address complex challenges in the society.

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What opportunities are available for students after completing the programme?

Our curriculum includes internships and practical projects to prepare students for real-world challenges. We anticipate a growing demand for one-year master's programmes, both nationally and internationally. Additionally, we encourage entrepreneurship and provide students with the opportunity to pursue their passions on campus.

Does the university have industry tie-ups for job placements?

While internships and practical experiences are integral to our programme, we also cultivate relationships with industries to facilitate placements. Our focus, however, extends beyond traditional job placements, as we aim to nurture entrepreneurial skills among our graduates.

Are there any courses or initiatives related to environmental science or climate change?

While we don’t offer a separate programme in environmental science or climate change, these themes are integrated into our curriculum. Faculty members with expertise in environmental design and related fields contribute to this interdisciplinary approach. We foresee expanding our offerings in these areas as the programme evolves.

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