Jaya Menon is Professor and Head, Department of History, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv Nadar University, Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh. A leading archaeologist, she has worked at several sites since 1983 and has co-directed explorations and excavations at Indor Khera and Rohana Khurd in Uttar Pradesh. Her interest is in making the discipline of Archaeology accessible to a wider audience, especially students of history.
Menon did her graduation from the University of Delhi, post-graduation from Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, Pune, and PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her doctoral research was in South Asian Bronze Age. Prior to Shiv Nadar University, she taught at Aligarh Muslim University (2004-2013) and MS University in Vadodara (1996-2004) and was research associate at the University of Delhi (1993-1995). Her work has been published in some leading journals.
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In an interview to Meha Mathur, she discusses how degree courses in Arts, Science and Commerce retain their relevance in present times and how to do value addition to the course you are doing.
Careers360: At a time when more and more students are opting for vocational and professional courses straight after class XII, what is the relevance of conventional B.A, B.Com and B.Sc degrees today? How relevant are these courses in terms of employability?
Jaya Menon: These disciplines are extremely relevant because for any job that you do, you need broad-based knowledge. And that you can get only when you do a combination of subjects – something more in the liberal arts mode. So you are not doing just one subject but a range of subjects. It’s better to get basic knowledge before specialising in, say Design. Yes, if you have an aptitude for that, that’s fine, but if you are interested in any field like development or policy matters, or HR, you need broad based knowledge, and an understanding of how people relate to society. That is something you can get from any of the Social Sciences.
Careers360: Do you think there is a need to rework these programmes, like, say History or Political Science, so that skills also become part of the curriculum rather than only knowledge acquisition component?
Jaya Menon: Let me answer this in two ways. For example, the Delhi University (DU) has choice-based credit system wherein you get disciplinary focus as well as general electives. So it’s interdisciplinary, but what they are doing is still geared into Honours mode. So there are certain things that private universities can offer.
There are many issues that crop up with your question, like relevance of history itself. As far as History is concerned, we are facing a challenge. History used to be very popular earlier but is less so now. So we have to reinvent ourselves. I am aware of that and we are trying to do that at SNU also. One way is to suggest new possibilities. So, earlier the options available were research or teaching,but now there are avenues like Heritage Management, Museum Studies, Curation,Public Archaeology and Public History. You can work for exciting projects like Partition Project, for example, by collecting data for such projects.
Let’s look at Heritage Management. The problem in this country is that we have largely a centralized situation under the ASI.Also there are very few heritage management departments, that mainly offer courses at Masters levels but this is something you can start at the BA level itself. The government can open up the field much more – enabling more organizations like the Aga Khan Foundation or INTACH. In the UK there is a very large field of heritage management where there would be many more job opportunities.
Careers360: How do you see the entry of private universities at the undergraduate level in Humanities or Sciences? Typically, a family would pay 10 to 20 lakh for a professional or vocational course but now you see more and more parents being willing to pay for even a BA programme. So why has that shift taken place? Also, what is it that private universities are doing differently?
Jaya Menon: It’s not that all private universities charge a lot. SNU has a very good scholarship scheme and almost all the students get scholarships. Largely what they have to pay for is the hostel.
What are they doing differently? For example, DU has a choice-based credit system, but I’m not sure how much of interdisciplinarity is coming in at the undergraduate level there. Looking at the list of subjects they are offering, there are some limitations. They are all regular ones – Political Science, Sociology etc. On the other hand, we offer International Relations, Archaeology, Communications, Filmmaking and Art practice. These are the kinds of subjects I don’t see in Delhi colleges. Even Technology students take up these choices. I know some Technology students doing Minors in Dance. These options open up because there are 42 credits in subjects that students have to do outside their discipline.
Careers360: How do you provide interdisciplinarity of related courses, like history students also getting an understanding of arts, philosophy, literature and politics?
Jaya Menon: We offer innovative courses, a range of Minors,and hire faculty according to their specialization. History students can learn Art and Architecture. History students who are interested in Sociology or International Relations or Communications do take up these Minors. Some courses are jointly taught by faculty from different departments. This aids interdisciplinarity.
Careers360: Some faculty members from other universities complain that timetable is a logistical nightmare in Choice-based system in India.
Jaya Menon: Yes, time table is a constraint. But students still get vast choices.
Careers360: Also, how does the teaching-learning experience differ in private universities?
Jaya Menon: One thing that is very important is that the teacher-student ratio is very good 10 to 1. It’s almost personal attention, where students work very closely with their teachers. We have tutorials for every course. So whatever students are not able to get through the lectures, extra readings are covered in tutorials. And we have continuous assessment throughout the courses, which is not dependent on one final exam. Assessments could be in the form of projects, paper presentations or mid-term exams. And in Performing Arts there are performances that are evaluated. With Archaeology, there is also field-based learning. And across all disciplines it’s compulsory to prepare a final-year dissertation. It tells students whether they can do research or not.
Careers360: In case of private universities, how does accreditation happen and to what extent are private universities expected to follow UGC norms?
Jaya Menon: We were vetted by a UGC committee. We went through the process of paperwork and physical inspection by a UGC committee. We follow the UGC rules and have also applied for Institution of Eminence.
Careers360: To what extent has technology made a difference to teaching-learning experience?
Jaya Menon: All our classrooms are smart classrooms. They are equipped with projectors and various other requirements. Besides,we have labs for the Technology and Natural Sciences Schools and for Economics. We also have studios for artists and students.
Careers360: Quite a large number of students are also opting for overseas degrees at the undergraduate level.
Jaya Menon: Not only that.Many students are also going abroad in the summer. I understand that it's a globalised world and they want more exposure. Many actually want to learn in their vacation period. So we have MOUs with foreign universities like Heidelberg, Warwick, Chicago and Michigan. Many of these are for faculty exchange, but there is also a student exchange.
Our first History batch passed out in 2018, and one student was selected for Social Anthropology and has gone to the London School of Economics. And there are technology students who are going to do Masters in Public Policy in US universities. This indicates parental financial ability and desire to send their wards out for better education.
Undergraduate education is very important. In school there is a lot of hand-holding,and then their world opens in college. And if we have innovative undergraduate education, then perhaps they won’t need to go abroad. And if all the universities could somehow reinvent themselves and become a little more relevant it would really help. We are increasingly becoming irrelevant, not just in terms of technology but in what we teach. So there is huge scope. And the private universities coming up have figured out what is required.
But at the same time I feel that school education should also be revamped and we should not have specialisations like Arts, Sciences and Commerce at the school level. We should allow students to do whatever they want, and study a mix of subjects across streams. I look at some of the science students in SNU. They are fascinated by history. I have also seen technology students shifting their Majors to School of Humanities and Social Sciences. We are closing options like Humanities and Social Sciences at the school level itself by devaluing these disciplines.
Part of the shifts taking place is because technology jobs are saturated. And also new fields like Public Policy are being discovered. And with professional and involved people coming into think tanks and even politics, politics would also become much more intelligent.
Careers360: What is it that you would stay to students? How should they approach their graduation education and in what ways can they do value education to the course they are doing?
Jaya Menon: You should make use of the undergraduate period to explore all possibilities and experiment with different kinds of courses. You should use any opportunity to do internship or studies in your summer. If you have done some research or worked in an internship or in a NGO, it all adds up to your broader education. You have to use your college years in a meaningful way. Do what you really want to do, enjoy doing it, and do as much as you can.
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According to me, first choice would be SRM Chennai. The second amrita university coimbatore followed by shiv nadar and then mukesh one of Mumbai.
The SRM has been one of the best private college after BITS and VIT. But above all these college are not the choice but the last step. So, you should try for NITs or IIITs or IITs or some government university like DTU, PU etc..
Hope it helps
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If you have mentioned the course you are interested in, it would have been easy to navigate you through the college details. Infact the college quality depends on the course you desire from, which means some courses have better placements and rank in some colleges but they wont be good for other courses. In terms of infrastructure the vit and srm are almost equally competitive.
hope this helps
Every place has its own pros and cons. SRM and SNU, both offer decent to good placements. The campus is moreover the same except for the location that they are based in. Cost can be a determining factor.
You need to weigh your options and then come to a decision because choosing the right college is very important. SRM is more known than SNU mostly because of its location.
Hope it helps.
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