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Shiv Nadar University, Delhi NCR, celebrates a culture of research in Humanities and Social Sciences

May 26, 2022 / 03:52 PM IST

Whenever we hear the word research, our mind instantly moves towards science and starts picturing machines, chemicals and scientists. But have you ever wondered what research in Humanities and the Social Sciences entails? In addition, we have all heard institutions use words like multi-disciplinary and research-focused, but what do these really mean?

To better understand the importance of research in Humanities and Social Sciences, we caught up with Dr. Rajat Kathuria, Dean, School of Humanities & Social Sciences (SHSS) at Shiv Nadar University, Delhi NCR. In this interview, Dr. Kathuria talks about the University’s unique undergraduate programs, what goes into the making of truly modern education, and why research is so critical to nation building. He also sheds light on what it takes to chart one's way to a successful career in the humanities, while also creating real world solutions and impacts that make the world a better place.

Walk us through what makes the curriculum at SHSS so unique.

Dr. Kathuria: For starters, SHSS has a unique identity.  We are a school that is focused on creating excellence in what we do. To that end, we created a 4-year, research focused curriculum from the get go. Since our program is research intensive, we pulled together the best minds in humanities and the social sciences: strong educators and researchers who don't rest on their laurels. In fact, all of our faculty continue to be extremely productive in their research that spans diverse themes that are unified by common threads of environment, data and decolonization that collectively motivate the School.

For example, the richness of the diverse departments in SHSS means that a theme such as decolonisation can be approached from several disciplinary perspectives-historical, sociological and economic to name a few. The ability to study South Asia in South Asia, from the South Asian perspective is a topic that has captured the attention of researchers in SHSS. Decolonising narratives, particularly for India, are critical in the run up to India occupying its rightful place as a global hub for higher education. Our faculty, many of whom have trained overseas, are very well versed with issues that are affecting us on a global scale. They bring with them a global mindset without compromising the local perspective. Several faculty members are widely published and all are eminent scholars in their respective fields.

To better understand the importance of research in Humanities and Social Sciences, we caught up with Dr. Rajat Kathuria, Dean, School of Humanities & Social Sciences (SHSS) at Shiv Nadar University, Delhi NCR. In this interview, Dr. Kathuria talks about the University’s unique undergraduate programs, what goes into the making of truly modern education, and why research is so critical to nation building. He also sheds light on what it takes to chart one's way to a successful career in the humanities, while also creating real world solutions and impacts that make the world a better place.

Why the focus on research?

Dr. Kathuria: It was a critical choice we made very early on. Good universities excel in teaching but excellent universities excel in teaching and research. It was a deliberate choice to build a four year UG program that allowed students to undertake an optional research project called Opportunity for Undergraduate Research (OUR), besides a mandatory thesis in the fourth year. We believe that even students at the UG level should be familiar with research techniques and methodologies and also well informed of the challenges confronting India, and the world. As a research-focused university, most of the faculty take their research into the classroom. Teaching therefore is not restricted to learning from textbooks. We believe education will evolve to meet the needs of its time. Someone who graduates in 2026 should be well versed with the culture and group think of 2026, not what was top of the mind when their textbooks were written!

It sounds like Shiv Nadar University is designed around the idea of a research friendly ecosystem.

Dr. Kathuria: Absolutely! Most research is a collaborative exercise. The best ideas come when you create a collaborative, interdisciplinary environment and ecosystem. An ecosystem that values research – in which you encourage publishing, conference attendance and seminar presentations, data collection etc. not only attracts the best minds but also retains them. We want to teach students what is contemporary and at the cutting edge and this can happen only when research is a priority.

We will continue to build on the opportunities we have created for students to engage in research along with faculty. While they acquire theoretical insights in the classroom, OUR and the final year compulsory thesis exposes them to hands-on research and tests their skills at writing logically and lucidly. Once the final year thesis is complete, the student makes a presentation to a committee. The idea is to help students apply all they have learned in the program much like a capstone project.

Does all of this research experience translate into an easier path to higher education for your students?

Dr. Kathuria: Of course! As I mentioned before, our research spans very diverse fields. SHSS consists of 7 departments: Economics, English, International Relations and Governance Studies, History and Archaeology, Sociology, Design and Art and the Performing Arts. The hallmark of our teaching pedagogy lies in its multidisciplinary nature - all students are required to enrol in Core Common Curriculum (CCC) courses along with University Wide Electives (UWE) which gives them the essentials to be truly transdisciplinary. There is also a certain flexibility in selection of Majors and Minors.

The carefully crafted breadth of the program creates enormous exposure for our students. There are several examples of students choosing to pursue further studies in the area of their Minor. Many of our students today study at some of the best universities across the world. Recently, one of our students was accepted into Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and Oxford on a fully paid scholarship to study South Asian literature. Now, her interest in South Asian literature was fed by the courses here, and necessarily by the faculty teaching it. It's tautological but important to stress that if she hadn't been here, she would've never been exposed to this specialised field of study, and never have got the sort of opportunity that she managed to create for herself!

Does this ease also translate into the job market?

Dr. Kathuria: Yes, it does. We focus on giving students an extraordinary classroom experience, and strong practical experience backed by a research mindset that they can choose to leverage in the future, should they wish to. Banks, NGOs, Think Tanks, Foundations and of course industry, all flock to campus to hire our undergraduates. In fact, some students remain within the Shiv Nadar family and find jobs within the university or and the foundation, while others continue their journey of discovery in the post graduate and doctoral programs within the University. At the cost of being repetitive, the focus on research creates an awareness in the students that is greater than what they are learning in the classroom. Other Universities also do this, but at SNU the entire ecosystem is geared toward that objective and therefore on average the SNU student is more aware than other students graduating from a 3-year traditional program. Add to this the access to the Shiv Nadar University Atal Incubation Centre that allows students to test and grow an idea, and possibly turn it into a viable commercial venture.

Clearly, there is tremendous value for the students at Shiv Nadar University, Delhi NCR. How wide is your net though? Do you actively seek students from various backgrounds, and if so, how affordable are your courses?

Dr. Kathuria: (laughs) I like how politely you framed that affordability question! We are committed to remain a quality focused institution, rather than a quantity driven one. We are never going to become a 15,000 student strong university, and that is a conscious decision. At our peak, we will host 5,000 students physically in the campus

The other crucial marker is the fee structure. Here too, we have decided to democratise availability of quality education - both through the tuition fees, which are currently comparable with what you pay in public universities, and in the number of students we sponsor through the scholarship route.  At any point in time, roughly 20% of the students receive some scholarship. So far, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi NCR, has empowered a number of deserving students to pursue quality education and has disbursed Rs. 249.3 Crores in scholarships since its inception.

For Shiv Nadar Foundation, the University represents the vision to create institutions that outlast the creators, and to impact future generations for centuries to come. What better way to do that, than investing in human beings?

Moneycontrol journalists were not involved in the creation of the article
Tags: #Features
first published: May 26, 2022 03:22 pm
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